Restoring Rationality in Punishment Policy
One of the dominant features of Norval Morris's concerns over his entire professional career was seeking ways to maintain a level of reasonableness and rationality in the punishment process. This is clearly reflected in his The Honest Politician's Guide to Crime Control (1970) with Gordon Hawkins. His volume with Michael Tonry, Between Prison and Probation: Intermediate Punishments in a Rational Sentencing System (1990), called attention to the many opportunities possible with community-based treatment. Given the punitive context of the times, they obviously felt that they had to label such treatments as “punishment” in order to make it politically acceptable for their proposals to be implemented. Yet however much they worked at it, intermediate punishments—to create meaningful alternatives between the intensity of prison and the extreme casualness of most probation—still have a hard time getting much attention in most jurisdictions. Perhaps states facing severe budget problems will begin to give them more attention in the near future.
There is unbounded potential for increases in punishment. The scope of the criminal law is sufficiently broad that almost everybody violates some aspect of it at some time in their lives; and a reasonable number of people, especially when they are young, violate some serious aspects with high frequency. The fundamental challenge to a just society is finding ways to moderate the imposition of punishment for those guilty of the most serious violations and to maintain a range of sanctions from warnings to supervised probation with various intensities of supervision along with support to direct their behavior into the most socially useful directions. Incarceration should be seen as a last resort, for those who engage in the most serious acts and who cannot be trusted to function in the community. All punishments should be seen as limited, to control the offending individual for a limited period of time, all the while trying to help him into a more civil and productive mode. This limitation has been particularly difficult to foster in the political environment of the last quarter century.