My previous post began a consideration of general deterrence. I view general deterrence through the lens of the criminal-justice system’s overall aim of promoting social trust. General deterrence is one of four mechanisms by which the system seeks to promote trust. The existence of deterrent threats to certain kinds of risky or harmful behavior provides greater reassurance to individuals that they can safely move outside of home and family spheres, engage in mutually beneficial transactions with strangers, and generally participate in the economic, political, and cultural life of our national community.
But there is a balance to be struck. If overly tough deterrent threats are made against an overly broad or ill-defined set of behaviors, then fear of the government may become an impediment to social trust that is as great, or even greater, than the fear of private victimization.
Certain constraints on criminalization may help to mediate this tension. (more…)