Crime by definition harms society. When the definition is an apt description of the action, then there is no doubt that the individual bears responsibility, taking into account the afore-mentioned individuals soundness of mind. But what happens when society’s codes for lawful behaviour do not match up to an individual’s moral script? Given that the individual in question has a social conscience this must be a legitimate question.
So many arbitrary criminals have been made out of individuals via the vagaries of specific laws at specific times. For example, the government likes to make criminals out of anyone they cannot tax. That is fair by any measure if the commodity is one that is needed and wanted by society, and individuals are making profits from goods in this category without paying their due. But what about laws made by the changing morals of a majority that does not in and of itself harm anyone in a measurable manner (at least until the laws are in force and the damage they then cause are measured)?
For example: prostitution. If there ever was a morally arbitrary law this is it. What should be a matter of personal morals has become a crime causing far more damage to those ‘forced’ to participate because of circumstance (the so-called ‘victims’) as well as growing a criminal subculture that profits from administering a business that is all the more lucrative (and thus more attractive to true ‘criminal elements’) because of its illegality. That certain forms of prostitution (such as marriage, advertising via sex and sexual imagery, and beauty pageants to name a few) are accepted because they are cloaked in other guises does not detract from the hypocrisy of a woman making money from a commodity that everyone but she is lawfully allowed to profit from.
For arguments sake lets add an extra dimension. Let’s say that the woman in question is supporting a drug addiction through prostitution. By all social measures she is doing society the least possible harm in that she is supplying a need to cater for her own need not harming anyone, not committing property crimes. Society has not come up with an adequate answer to addiction. But it persists in persecuting those that fall outside its acceptable parameters even if they do not cause harm to anyone but themselves. And the harm to themselves can be argued to be caused by society’s inability to face up to ‘treating’ rather than ‘punishing’ what is as yet an inadequately explained condition. Does this person deserve to share the same cell as one who has been indicted for ‘break and enter’ or ‘rape’?
My position is that they do not deserve to share a cell at all. It is due to society’s immaturity and unwillingness to face the problems presented that this hypothetical woman is a criminal at all. Sadly we have not moved forward as a law-making society in this regard for hundreds of years (at least). Modern thinking derived from good medicine and science makes no impact on the public and thus political consciousness at all.
Conclusion: When it comes to ‘moral’ crimes, society creates the criminal, thus it is wholly responsible for the labelling and thus the crime.