Essay:Limitations of criminal records as a means of preventing crime

From Mises Wiki, the global repository of classical-liberal thought
Jump to: navigation, search
Essay.svg This essay contains the opinions of one or more authors and does not necessarily represent the views of Mises Wiki or the Mises Institute. Mises Wiki essays may sometimes contain opinions that are not widely accepted by Austrian school thinkers, but nonetheless reside on the site to help stimulate critical thinking, constructive dialog, and an open-minded process of creative problem-solving furthering the growth of the body of Austrian school thought.

Some people seem to view criminal records as a great way of screening to make sure that the people they hire aren't dangerous. But these records are not a panacea. For one thing, most people do not check the criminal records of the contractors they hire to do work around their homes and businesses. Maybe the contractor will do a background check on his employees, but what about the contractor himself? Many electricians, plumbers, tax preparers, software developers, etc. are one-man companies in which the sole employee is also the owner-operator.

Many crimes also go unreported. This is especially true in the case of fraud and employee theft. Businesspeople typically don't want the publicity that comes with reporting a crime, and they don't want to spend time in court testifying. They would rather fire the person and use the threat of prosecution as a means of getting the person to pay restitution. To do that, they have to offer, as an incentive, to not report the crime.

These firings create gaps in the criminal's employment record, but there are many ways to explain away such gaps. He could say that he started a business that failed; or that he was a full-time caretaker of his dying mother; or that he went to the woods because he wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if he could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when he came to die, discover that he had not lived. He can find a way to make his employment gap sound not only explicable but noble.

Suppose that today we could be granted the one-time favor of being given a list of all the crimes that each person in the world has ever committed, regardless of whether or not he was caught. That would still not provide total protection from criminals, because there are always first-time offenders. You can hire a person straight out of school who has a totally clean record, and yours can be the first company that he betrays. Remember Bernie Madoff? He was well-respected, and had a long record of accomplishment without serious black marks. But people were foolish to extend as much trust as they did to him.

Unless people want a former criminal to have to resort back to crime, or starve, then someone has to hire him or otherwise do business with him. He has to have some means of earning an income by lawful means, or he will be a burden on someone for the necessities of life. People may say, "That's not my problem." It is their problem, if they live in the same society as those people. They are not going to simply vanish, and not all of them will commit suicide if they despair of earning a living lawfully. They may do something else.

The solution is to create internal controls that are able to monitor employees and control their activities enough that you can prevent crime. Auditing, reconciling accounts, requiring employees to take vacations, treating unusual transactions with suspicion, and so on are ways to combat fraud.