Does the punishment fit the deterrence?
Deterrence must be part of criminal sentencing. But when addiction is involved in crime, deterrence is a much more difficult and complicated goal.
State lawmakers seem not to have considered that recently when they adopted a bill to increase fines for underage drinking and public drunkenness by up to 230 percent, from $300 to $1,000.
Such fines on teens or young adults, or on someone obviously drunk in public, will increase local treasuries by about $6 million a year in Pennsylvania, according to the Legislature's calculations.
Since lawmakers did not pass a different bill that would have dedicated fine revenue to prevention and treatment programs, it appears the lawmakers' intent is primarily punitive.
Punishment is appropriate, of course, particularly in cases where municipal governments in college towns must bear the costs resulting from widespread underage drinking. Municipal officials in many of those towns across the state were the driving force for the bill.
Higher fines will indeed inflict pain on those who are convicted of underage drinking and public drunkenness, but purely after the fact. It's not at all clear that higher fines alone will deter such conduct by others.
Lawmakers should revisit the issue next year and dedicate the increased fine revenue to education and deterrence programs. Doing so will increase punishment but also help to diminish future episodes.