If you commit a major crime and feel remorse, should you turn yourself in?

Imagine that you have accidentally killed someone (say, hit and run), or perhaps a major economic crime such as embezzlement. Also, imagine that you've gotten away with it. Years have passed and you're basically in the clear.
However, you are overwhelmed by guilt. Maybe you've had a change of heart, or just genuinely become a better person, so you wish to set things right.

Now, what should you do?
Turning yourself in might give a sense of relief, closure and justice to those affected by your crime, but it will also cost the state a whole lot of money to house you, the state will lose income from your taxes and society will suffer overall from the loss of your expertise in your work field (if you work, but most people do), in it will hurt your family and your loved ones, and if you truly are reformed and remorseful (as we are assuming here) it will make it impossible for you to pay for your crimes by actually doing good deeds.

Since you are remorseful and truly have changed your heart, punishing you by imprisonment will serve no further end than retributive justice, but maybe the people affected by your crime deserves this?
What is the best course of action here? Which would benefit society overall?

What'd benefit society has nothing to do with an individual decision on its own circumstances. Society has no business in people's personal lives.

Society does have business with seeing justice done though. The fundamental reason a criminal justice system was implemented was to take vengeance on behalf of the victim, so that it would not have to do so itself if capable, or be completely unprotected if incapable. Justice is for the sake of the victim. If society actively denies them the ability to take vengeance, then it must take it in their stead.

Justice demands that the criminal be punished if the statute of limitation have not yet expired. If injustice could be made just by being beneficial to society, one might as well officially single out a small minority to persecute, to create social cohesion in the vast majority in society. Or designate a few children in orphanages to be sexually abused by the people so inclined, so that all the psychological trauma is concentrated upon a few individuals whose future didn't look promising to begin with, while offering additional insurance that the vast majority of resourceful children stay resourceful. Such might create real and tangible benefits for society, and overall contribute to the greater good. It has nothing to do with justice though, and any society engaging in it is a vile and unjust one.

So, whatever the cost-benefit result of each individual situation might be, society should certainly seek to compel all such individuals to turn themselves in.

Well, the way you put the question, it would depend on whether or not I can bear the feelings of guilt or not. I can not honestly answer that without having been in the situation.

But I guess the question is more along the lines of whether or not there should be punishment for a person in the given situation? In which case I would say yes, there should be punishment, though perhaps the need for punishment does indeed decrease over time. I (at least currently) adhere to an absolute theory of (legal) punishment, so "reforming" the perpetrator is of secondary concern.

Depends on what the purpose of prison is.

If it's just to punish people, then yes. You should turn yourself in.

If it's suppose to be some form of rehabilitation, then every moment spent in prison is a waste because you already realized it's wrong and won't do it again.

Imperator_DK:
What'd benefit society has nothing to do with an individual decision on its own circumstances. Society has no business in people's personal lives.

I agree with you here, though I think society does gain or benefit depending on the choice, even if what does or does not benefit society has nothing to do with the choice of the individual.

Personally, if we're talking about a situation where I accidentally killed someone, felt remorse and planned to never do it again, and I would never be caught unless I turn myself in, I wouldn't. It makes zero sense to. Prison will not rehabilitate you, when/if you get out someday, your life will be ruined and you'll struggle to even get a job, and going to prison won't change what you did, nor will it serve to protect society.

I honestly think that the notion of the justice system as being about revenge is outdated. The justice system should serve one purpose: preventing someone from committing crimes in the future. To me, this means rehabilitation where possible, and incarceration where it's not. Obviously, you would incarcerate all criminals while they are being rehabilitated, but if the end goal isn't trying to get these people's lives turned around and help them reintegrate into society as more productive people when they're released, then the prison system is self defeating. All it does is teach criminals how to be better criminals, and make their lives even harder so when they get out they have even fewer options available to them aside from crime.

So if my ideal system is one that focuses on rehabilitation, incarceration serves no purpose and costs a lot of money if the person was already rehabilitated anyway.

Imperator_DK:
Snip

I disagree with 'vengeance' being the main purpose of a justice system. In fact, I think it is the least important part of a justice-system, but alright.

Just because someone feels badly about something he did doesn't mean that justice has been served. Justice requires closure, if nothing else. I would suggest that a perpetrator who doesn't tun him- or herself in isn't actually remorseful, at least not to a degree commensurate with his or her crime.

Well, we usually do grant people turning themselves in lower sentences... so take that as a middle-of-the-road solution to your dilemma there. Just because you had your change of heart, your guilt isn't suddenly forgiven. But it and your admission can and should be used as lessening circumstances.

I don't know what one should do in that situation. I do know I would never willingly be imprisoned for a crime I could get away with.

Realitycrash:

I disagree with 'vengeance' being the main purpose of a justice system. In fact, I think it is the least important part of a justice-system, but alright.

What about the idea of retrubution?

Well...is the statute of limitations up? Cause that is going to affect things.

Agitated Owl:
Just because someone feels badly about something he did doesn't mean that justice has been served. Justice requires closure, if nothing else. I would suggest that a perpetrator who doesn't tun him- or herself in isn't actually remorseful, at least not to a degree commensurate with his or her crime.

Stephen Sossna:

Realitycrash:

I disagree with 'vengeance' being the main purpose of a justice system. In fact, I think it is the least important part of a justice-system, but alright.

What about the idea of retrubution?

What about retribution? To me it serves no purpose except to give the suffering some sense of peace, which I think is misaimed yet understandable. If someone hurt me, it would be natural of me to want to harm them, but should I feel better because more harm is inflicted? No. Ideally I should just 'be the bigger man' if there is no other benefit for my revenge other than make me feel better. I strongly disapprove with gaining pleasure from inflicting suffering upon others, no matter how 'natural' it might be (and I argue it is) or justified.

thaluikhain:
Well...is the statute of limitations up? Cause that is going to affect things.

No, the statue of limitations is not up. This has nothing to do with guilt. The question is; What would be best for society overall?
Certainly you can argue that it WOULD be better for society overall if you turned yourself in, but is that always true? What kind of crimes will warrant that you 'turn yourself in', while other crimes (if any) merit being ignored as they will ruin your life and hurt societies economical functions without providing much benefit for the suffering of your crime.

Skeleon:
Well, we usually do grant people turning themselves in lower sentences... so take that as a middle-of-the-road solution to your dilemma there. Just because you had your change of heart, your guilt isn't suddenly forgiven. But it and your admission can and should be used as lessening circumstances.

Isn't it more effective to 'work off your guilt' by doing good deeds in society than just sucking up tax-payer money and being a waste of space in a prison?

Realitycrash:
No, the statue of limitations is not up. This has nothing to do with guilt. The question is; What would be best for society overall?
Certainly you can argue that it WOULD be better for society overall if you turned yourself in, but is that always true? What kind of crimes will warrant that you 'turn yourself in', while other crimes (if any) merit being ignored as they will ruin your life and hurt societies economical functions without providing much benefit for the suffering of your crime.

Ok, yeah, fudging the question a bit there.

More seriously...depends on the crime statistics. If a lot of people like me are committing the same kind of crime and getting away with it, and people know that is the case...you could argue then that it's not just about your individual crime, you are representing the whole. Not in a being held accountable for other people's crimes way, though, in a "can we get this right this time" sort of way.

thaluikhain:

Realitycrash:
No, the statue of limitations is not up. This has nothing to do with guilt. The question is; What would be best for society overall?
Certainly you can argue that it WOULD be better for society overall if you turned yourself in, but is that always true? What kind of crimes will warrant that you 'turn yourself in', while other crimes (if any) merit being ignored as they will ruin your life and hurt societies economical functions without providing much benefit for the suffering of your crime.

Ok, yeah, fudging the question a bit there.

More seriously...depends on the crime statistics. If a lot of people like me are committing the same kind of crime and getting away with it, and people know that is the case...you could argue then that it's not just about your individual crime, you are representing the whole. Not in a being held accountable for other people's crimes way, though, in a "can we get this right this time" sort of way.

If a lot of people are committing the same crime and getting away with it, more police-resources should be aimed at catching said people. But if it is true that said individuals that commit the crime ALWAYS feel remorse and change their minds, would it be a point in them turning themselves in, as they will effectively 'end' their careers and lives (few serious places hire ex-cons)?
I'm not arguing that these people shouldn't be punished. But would there be a point in punishing them if they have already 'learned their lesson'? Except for the above noted sense of relief of affected people.
I guess it could also generate a feeling of unease upon society overall, if few criminals are ever punished, as society will never know that they have had a 'change of heart'. In the individual case, this will not matter, but with far more people acting the same way it will have an effect.

Hmmm...
No. Try atone for it yourself. Putting you in prison doesn't help anyone and just costs more. Try do something to make up for what you did. Pay back your debt to society instead of making them pay more to look after your ass in prison. I also consider vengeance to be the worst goal of a prison system so if you have already changed your ways and want to try and somewhat fix whatever you did that is for the better.

Also I just thinking going to prison is more likely to make you a hardened criminal in most places than committing a single crime is >.> I don't have a high opinion of most prison systems.

Realitycrash:
If a lot of people are committing the same crime and getting away with it, more police-resources should be aimed at catching said people. But if it is true that said individuals that commit the crime ALWAYS feel remorse and change their minds, would it be a point in them turning themselves in, as they will effectively 'end' their careers and lives (few serious places hire ex-cons)?
I'm not arguing that these people shouldn't be punished. But would there be a point in punishing them if they have already 'learned their lesson'? Except for the above noted sense of relief of affected people.
I guess it could also generate a feeling of unease upon society overall, if few criminals are ever punished, as society will never know that they have had a 'change of heart'. In the individual case, this will not matter, but with far more people acting the same way it will have an effect.

Not quite what I meant. In my view, an important part of punishing people is because that's how the system is supposed to work. If both of us want to steal money, say, but I do not and you do and get away with it...in a sense, society has approved of you stealing it. It doesn't really matter to me if you do someone like that, as long as you aren't stealing from me, but then society has given you money, or a freedom to take money, that I don't have. We are unequal...so long as I abide by the law.

If, on the other hand, you do it and get caught and punished, then we are made equal again. The system works, the rule that says "Don't, or else" applies to both of us.

Now, if it turns out that you were only caught and punished because you gave yourself up...the police aren't doing their job, but the system is still working, the rules being applied.

I think that one you would go to prison, the good feeling of "doing the right thing" would quickly disappear and what would take it's place is the dread that you're locked up with a bunch of people you don't want to be around, many of which are violent, some of which will most likely be violent and/or rapey towards you.
If I would really feel guilty and wanted to do something to take my mind off it, I would go volunteer in homeless shelters or in some African country, maybe make large donations to charity or to whoever was affected by my actions, not ruin my own life.

Realitycrash:

What about retribution? To me it serves no purpose except to give the suffering some sense of peace, which I think is misaimed yet understandable. If someone hurt me, it would be natural of me to want to harm them, but should I feel better because more harm is inflicted? No. Ideally I should just 'be the bigger man' if there is no other benefit for my revenge other than make me feel better. I strongly disapprove with gaining pleasure from inflicting suffering upon others, no matter how 'natural' it might be (and I argue it is) or justified.

Well, perhaps I should have made the question more clear, but I did not want to be suggestive with the question.
Basically, what I mean is the idea of retribution as in every deed gets rewarded with what it's worth, it's a term often associated with a system of punishment that does not look towards societal gains. Incidentally, should we discuss this example purely from the perspective of societal utility or is the question more open towards different "purposes" of punishment?

I think what thaluikhain wrote here:

thaluikhain:

If, on the other hand, you do it and get caught and punished, then we are made equal again. The system works, the rule that says "Don't, or else" applies to both of us.

would be at the heart of a "retributive" system.

If its a financial crime, then the punishment is often not imprisonment, but having to surrender the proceeds plus massive fines to the state. So society would probably be just fine.

For crimes such as homicide, whilst individually it is worse for society to be punished than stay free, society benefits when the system has integrity and is applied to all. Sending the message that 'I'm so important that it would be wrong to punish me' is damaging for society, and so you should receive due punishment.

Realitycrash:
...
I disagree with 'vengeance' being the main purpose of a justice system. In fact, I think it is the least important part of a justice-system, but alright.

Justice is something you give to a victim. What else would you give it?

Scandinavia has more of a "criminal day- and nightcare" approach through, where the criminal is viewed as a poor misguided soul in need of rehabilitation, and the victim can sod off. No justice is found in our systems to begin with.

Imperator_DK:

Realitycrash:
...
I disagree with 'vengeance' being the main purpose of a justice system. In fact, I think it is the least important part of a justice-system, but alright.

Justice is something you give to a victim. What else would you give it?

Scandinavia has more of a "criminal day- and nightcare" approach through, where the criminal is viewed as a poor misguided soul in need of rehabilitation, and the victim can sod off. No justice is found in our systems to begin with.

Yeaaah. Sorry, but no, that is not my definition of 'Justice'. It might be yours, but it is not necessarily supported by others. Justice is what is passed not only to a victim, but it also clearly contains elements on how we handle an offender. Just because we aren't big on retributive punishment (and really, why would we, except to give the offended party a sense of relief) doesn't mean we lack 'Justice'.

Stephen Sossna:

Realitycrash:

What about retribution? To me it serves no purpose except to give the suffering some sense of peace, which I think is misaimed yet understandable. If someone hurt me, it would be natural of me to want to harm them, but should I feel better because more harm is inflicted? No. Ideally I should just 'be the bigger man' if there is no other benefit for my revenge other than make me feel better. I strongly disapprove with gaining pleasure from inflicting suffering upon others, no matter how 'natural' it might be (and I argue it is) or justified.

Well, perhaps I should have made the question more clear, but I did not want to be suggestive with the question.
Basically, what I mean is the idea of retribution as in every deed gets rewarded with what it's worth, it's a term often associated with a system of punishment that does not look towards societal gains. Incidentally, should we discuss this example purely from the perspective of societal utility or is the question more open towards different "purposes" of punishment?

I think what thaluikhain wrote here:

thaluikhain:

If, on the other hand, you do it and get caught and punished, then we are made equal again. The system works, the rule that says "Don't, or else" applies to both of us.

would be at the heart of a "retributive" system.

You can discuss it in both senses, though my main question as more 'Would there be a sufficient point in punishing those that will never repeat a crime and tend to make up for their crime?'

The judicial system is ultimately about protecting the public. If there is a case where all damage has been restored and those responsible have sincerely changed their outlook such that they will never do something of the sort again, there is usually no point to punishment. Bearing in mind of course that with many crimes, murder being an obvious example, restitution is impossible.

The problem with this however is twofold.

First, no one can truly know the mind of another. If we let one individual go because we are certain he is reformed, how can we justify holding onto another who says the same thing, even if we have sincere doubts about the second person?

Secondly, public perception of justice being applied equally to all is a big part of how the system works. Regardless of the reasoning behind it, some individuals publicly getting away with a crime inspires others to follow suit.

Heronblade:
The judicial system is ultimately about protecting the public.

Isn't that what the police is for though? You can get away with all sorts of punishments in order to "protect the public", just think of that nice permanent "freezing" they did in Minority Report. Almost everyone has this gut instinct that the judicial system ought to have the purpose of preventing further crimes. But when you think about it, a lot of things do not match up to this supposed goal. Why, for example, should we even wait for a crime to be committed? Or why are there minimal and maximal sentences? Ultimately, you can best protect the public if you can specifically tailor the punishment according to the "danger" posed by the perpetrator.

Realitycrash:

You can discuss it in both senses, though my main question as more 'Would there be a sufficient point in punishing those that will never repeat a crime and tend to make up for their crime?'

There is a pretty good argument that punishment is intented to negate the breach of the law, and that negation is not connected to rehabilitation. Committing a crime can be seen as irreverence to the rights of another subject, or the community of subjects. An "attack" of sorts on the principle of equality, which ultimately guarantees everyone their freedoms. You could also see it as a "violation of your duties" as a member of society. Punishment is necessary in order to put things back into balance, even though the society will be a bit "poorer" as a result.

But I think even with this approach, you could argue that "making up" for the crime constitutes the perpetrator himself putting his relationship with society back into balance, and hence making punsihment unnecessary.

Stephen Sossna:

Heronblade:
The judicial system is ultimately about protecting the public.

Isn't that what the police is for though? You can get away with all sorts of punishments in order to "protect the public", just think of that nice permanent "freezing" they did in Minority Report. Almost everyone has this gut instinct that the judicial system ought to have the purpose of preventing further crimes. But when you think about it, a lot of things do not match up to this supposed goal. Why, for example, should we even wait for a crime to be committed? Or why are there minimal and maximal sentences? Ultimately, you can best protect the public if you can specifically tailor the punishment according to the "danger" posed by the perpetrator.

That's easy enough to answer. Protecting the public also includes protecting the rights of the public, right along with the rights of any criminals. Which, quite often, leads to compromises between that consideration and physical safety.

Trying to protect people from all harm leads to some rather absurd conclusions anyways, such as confining everyone to individual padded rooms.

Realitycrash:
...
Yeaaah. Sorry, but no, that is not my definition of 'Justice'. It might be yours, but it is not necessarily supported by others. Justice is what is passed not only to a victim, but it also clearly contains elements on how we handle an offender. Just because we aren't big on retributive punishment (and really, why would we, except to give the offended party a sense of relief) doesn't mean we lack 'Justice'.

How to handle the offender in a manner proportional to the crime certainly plays into the evaluation of justice.

What consequences handling him one way or the other will have for society isn't an evaluation centered on providing fairness or on the crime committed though, but a pragmatic cost-benefit analysis. It's rather hard to consider something part of a concept, when it's evaluated along another axis entirely.

It might happen to intersect with an deterministic idea about "justice" that nothing is the responsibility of the criminal to begin with, and hence there is no need for retribution. But that idea makes the concept of "justice system" moot, again reducing the system to something that cares for criminals for pragmatic reasons.

Heronblade:

That's easy enough to answer. Protecting the public also includes protecting the rights of the public, right along with the rights of any criminals. Which, quite often, leads to compromises between that consideration and physical safety.

Trying to protect people from all harm leads to some rather absurd conclusions anyways, such as confining everyone to individual padded rooms.

Well said. In practice, this would probably mostly work. The problem is, though, that all that protects the perpetrator's rights here is a compromise. It is entirely possible for the danger to be high enough to warrant absolute removal from society, by whatever means necessary. The justification allows complete depersonalization in favor of the greater good. If we believe that there is an absolute limit to legal punishment, denoted by basic human rights, that creates at least a theoretical problem.

Have you see the US prison system? It makes you into a harden criminal at a young age. I also believe all financial crimes should be done in a pay me by situation.

I'd say no, you shouldn't turn yourself in unless you're going to get caught and calculate a reasonable chance of getting a plea deal. Not unless you think you're a clear danger to others.

Why? Because no one would benefit from you turning yourself in, except for maybe some private prison contractors.

In the US at least, pot smokers are thrown into rape cells and used as force labor. Slavery is alive and well in our penal system, and there is no justice in the system, it's completely corrupt at every level.

How Corporations Exploit Prison Labor

Realitycrash:
Isn't it more effective to 'work off your guilt' by doing good deeds in society than just sucking up tax-payer money and being a waste of space in a prison?

Perhaps, although it really should be about reforming people. Heck, countries like yours demonstrate their amazingly low recidivism rates well enough to show their effectiveness.
Also, people in prisons, to my knowledge, usually get bored out of their minds, anyway, so a lot of folks take up offers for work, chances for job training and whatnot, if only to pass the time or earn some money.
Proper incentives is key. And trying to actually generate wealth from people in prison for the larger society, with a net profit, is unlikely to happen unless you instate forced labour... which I think would go way too far.

Serving time in prison would not make you feel less guilty, and drains taxpayer dollar.

Would make more sense to anonymously help or set up an organization to reverse what damage you can. Devoting any time not spent keeping yourself alive to the cause until you are unable or the debt has been payed.

Realitycrash:
Since you are remorseful and truly have changed your heart, punishing you by imprisonment will serve no further end than retributive justice, but maybe the people affected by your crime deserves this?
What is the best course of action here? Which would benefit society overall?

I'd say that you should turn yourself in. I'm in favour of restorative justice, but I don't think it's the place of the criminal to judge whether they themselves have been suitably restored, integrated, or learned from their actions. For the same reason we don't let victims or victim's families decide on the guilt or punishment of the accused.

The state decides, based upon law and evidence, what is appropriate. The remorsefulness of the perpetrator certainly comes into that (and I'd argue that it should generally be a more considered factor), but the decision rests with the judge, jury, or parole board. It's their job, and their responsibility, [edit: and they're the ones who have a social and civil mandate to make those decisions].

And yeah, secondarily, it might help the victims in some way as well.

 

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