VIII. Punishing Wildlife Offenders
It is important to consider what type of punishment(s) convicted wildlife offenders should receive. There are four different traditional philosophies of punishment that may be used in the American criminal justice system: (1) retribution, (2) deterrence, (3) incapacitation, and (4) rehabilitation. The first philosophy, retribution, simply serves to punish offenders for their crimes. That is, they are subject to some penalty that should be equal to the crime that was committed. Because offenders should be punished for their crimes, retribution generally sets the overall structure for sentencing. One or more of the other three goals of punishment may then be used within the framework of retribution.
The latter three philosophies of punishment are all aimed at preventing offenders from committing future crimes, though the means for achieving the goal may be very different. Deterrence is based on the premise that an individual will not commit future crimes if the punishment is certain, swift, and severe enough. That is, offenders will be deterred from additional crimes if they believe they will certainly be detected and apprehended and then swiftly and severely punished for the crime.
Incapacitation for traditional crimes typically involves incarceration in prison or jail. While incapacitation may be used as part of a deterrent or retributive goal, the use of incapacitation alone serves to prevent crime because the offender is locked up and therefore incapable of committing new crimes on the outside. Since wildlife crimes are typically not viewed as a serious threat to humans, long terms of incarceration are rare for wildlife offenders. However, sentences involving “quasi-incapacitation” in the form of forfeiture of hunting privileges or the loss of weapons or vehicles are frequently imposed.
Rehabilitation involves identifying and addressing the factors that contributed to an offender committing a crime. If those causes can be addressed through correctional programming, the offender should not commit additional crimes. Rehabilitative treatment for any type of offender, including wildlife offenders, may be as simple as participation in educational and vocational programs, or as extensive as cognitive-behavioral therapy or psychiatric treatment. While rehabilitation can be effective at preventing crime, it can also be expensive and time consuming. Accordingly, it is not used frequently as part of a sentence for many types of crimes, especially wildlife and environmental crimes.
In order to determine which philosophy of punishment should be used for a particular offender, the motivation of the offender should be considered. For example, if an offender committed a wildlife crime simply because he or she did not understand the wildlife regulations in the area (such regulations may be complicated—see Hall, 1992), that offender can probably be rehabilitated by completing an educational program concerning hunting and fishing regulations along with the standard retributive punishment. Conversely, a chronic wildlife offender that is motivated by profit or thrill may need extensive rehabilitation and therefore may be more efficiently punished through deterrent measures such as steep fines and a short jail sentence.
Ultimately, most wildlife crimes are misdemeanors and do not typically involve the imposition of a jail sentence. Misdemeanor wildlife crimes are most often punished with loss of hunting and fishing privileges for a period of time, the forfeiture of any illegally obtained fish or game animals, heavy fines, or a period of probation or other community corrections sentence. Felony wildlife offenders may receive any or all of those penalties but may also be subject to terms of incarceration in jail or prison or the loss of hunting or fishing equipment (including weapons and vehicles) that was used in the commission of the crime(s) (see Musgrave et al., 1993).
As with traditional crimes, wildlife crimes prosecuted at the federal level tend to carry heavier sentences than those prosecuted by the state. For example, an Arizona man was apprehended in 2006 by federal fish and wildlife agents for killing and selling eagles for profit. He was convicted and sentenced to 3 years of probation and required to pay $10,000 in fines. Likewise, a man in Washington State was convicted of smuggling in more than $30,000 worth of reptiles from Thailand and was sentenced to 2 years in federal prison (USFWS, 2007). Still, ramifications (such as fines) for wildlife crimes are important at the state level. Not only may the consequences play a role in deterring future crime and protecting natural resources, but a few state-level wildlife enforcement agencies (e.g., in Kentucky) also fund their entire agency budget from the fees collected from licenses and fines imposed on violators— they operate on no tax dollars whatsoever.