The Right Way To Do Punishment

Reprising arguments from his book When Brute Force Fails, Mark Kleiman spells out why the swiftness and certainty of punishments are more important than the severity:

Not only is severity an inadequate substitute for swiftness and certainty, it actually interferes with them. The more severe a punishment is, the more due process (leading to delay) is required to impose it, and (if severity is measured in sentence length) the less often it can be imposed before the prisons fill up. Unfortunately, increasing severity is easy for a legislature or sentencing commission to accomplish; increasing swiftness and certainty—for example, by adding police and improving police operations—is more complicated, especially given the need to balance intrusiveness against crime-control benefits, as in the case of New York’s sometimes overaggressive “stop-and-frisk” tactics.