Pinochet and retribution

His victims deserve to have him punished. Why is that a hard concept to grasp?

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.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: