Friday, February 24, 2006

Progressive punishments

My 8-year old son, William, told me how justice is dispensed in classroom at his school. The response to a misdemeanor depends on the number of prior offences (= the 'Level').
  • Level 1, a verbal warning.
  • Level 2, a verbal warning.
  • Level 3, a verbal warning + a 'chat' with the teacher.
  • Level 4, a verbal warning + a 'chat' + an entry in the take-home school diary.
  • Level 5, a verbal warning+ a chat + an entry + visit to school head.
Fortunately William has only got to the Level 2 and that was for 'fooling-around' in class. In fact, no-one seems to have ever made it past Level 3. By the end of the day the slate is wiped clean and the schedule starts afresh. This creates some unusual incentive issues - after three offences kids tend to clam-up in fear of getting to the next level and wait until the next day to repeat offend. Levels of bad behaviour are, at least, 'smoothed' over time.

Hypothetically, for sixth and higher level offences on a given day, fifth level offence punishments repeat although I guess the head has her own schedule. William was unclear whether very severe offences would lead to an automatic jump to a high level or not since such high-level misdemeanors had never occurred.

A useful model for the criminal justice system? This classroom situation is a bit like an iterated prisoner's dilemma where tit-for-tat is improved upon by periodic (in this case daily) bouts of forgiveness.


Sam Ward said...

What comes after level 5? Another Chat?

P.A. Coplay said...

My limited experience with children is that with them it is close enough to a real repeated games - each day starts again with play under the same rules and with the same payoffs - hence the daily forgiveness. If you want to make it more formal you could model the child player as being having its behaviour drawn from an urn with lots of "good child" balls but a few "bad child" balls. More simply, each day the child starts anew, with a disposition one way or the other (mainly good though).

For adults involved in more serious crimes (even if they haven't been caught yet) it is more probably more like a sequential game with actions having consequences with different payoffs depending on what happens (caught or not, jail or not i.e which branch of the extensive form is taken), learning and, one interpretations of Heckmans lecture is that, important components of, their nature are more or less determined.

hc said...

Sam, Repeated stage 5 but has never occurred.

p.a. I agree, I was being a bit frivolous. Is there a role for periodic forgiveness in the criminal justice system? I think probably not since as you suggest, the culture of being criminal is not easily abandoned, even given a lucky break.

FXH said...

Seems liek just in my day although it wasn't spelt out as clearly. Low level smartarsery reigned in every now and then will keep you just out of big trouble. Same as blogs.