I share the glee that I assume most of my Blue friends will feel at the prospect of Augusto Pinochet finishing out his life behind prison bars. (Nor does it seem ironic to me that he will go away for theft rather than murder: it’s much harder to argue that his theft was political rather as opposed to purely criminal. Yes, I’d rather see him tried for torture and murder, but like Patrick Fitzgerald I’m not inclined to be picky. As Jane Galt says, it’s the Al Capone principle.)
Note, however, that if putting Pinochet away is justified, it must be on some basis other than deterrence or incapacitation. Perhaps it’s time to rethink the place of retribution as a legitimate goal of criminal justice policy. Making what remains of Pinochet’s life as miserable as possible is something owed to his victims. It proclaims that what he did was wrong, that the victims did not deserve their victimization, and that they were important enough to be worth revenging.
Why should it be so hard to see that, and to apply it to more ordinary cases?
Update I’m glad to find that Steve Teles agrees with me; I’ve had several emails, all dissenting. One pointed out, correctly, that the phrase “as miserable as possible” is hyperbolic; that should have been “miserable to the appropriate extent.” Another suggested that retribution might often get in the way of repentence and restitution. I agree that those, too, are appropriate objects of punishment. My point was that retribution not be dismissed as somehow “primitive” and unworthy of serious consideration. Still a third says that the problem with the American system is that punishment often exceeds desert, and that the pattern of punishment is excessively random; I agree entirely. I claim that if we allow retribution into the discussion, we can than debate what punishment fits the crime.