Does the Punishment Fit the Crime?


Gil Garcetti in The LA Review of Books:

ON MY FIRST READING of An Eye for an Eye, Mitchel P. Roth’s new book, I recall closing it and asking myself a series of questions: “What have I learned?,” “How do I feel about what I had read?,” “Was it worth my time and effort?” This book is not a quick read, not a book where you can quickly turn to the next page. Often you have to, and want to, ponder what you’ve just read. But if you are interested in the subject matter, or if you are a judge, lawyer, elected official, or a “student” of jurisprudence, reading this book will be worth your time and effort.

My dominant feeling was when I finished my first read of the book was disappointment — but it was not the content of the book that disappointed me. The book is the first I have read that attempts to chronicle and dispassionately explore the world history of crime and punishment. Professor Roth’s effort is forceful, scholarly yet easily readable, informative, sometimes even entertainingly informative, and, lastly, provocative. Roth has said it was not written with the purpose of being a university textbook, but it easily could be the bones of a very interesting class for students of history or those interested in the law, government, philosophy, or criminology. The book is crammed with interesting facts and statistics and dozens of fascinating and sometimes gory anecdotes that have been brought together through disciplined and thorough research by the author (and probably others working with him). Roth, who teaches criminal justice and criminology at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, has done an admirable job of scholarship.

My disappointment stemmed from the conclusion I drew, based on the facts Roth presents: that there is not one nation in the history of the world whose people, government, or rulers haven’t been responsible for perpetrating horrific acts of cruelty, sadism, and savagery on other human beings. Is this the nature of man? Are we any safer today than 100, 500, 1,000, or 5,000 years ago? Roth could persuasively argue that we are indeed much safer — at least from the common street criminal. When you put aside acts of terrorism and accept that crime statistics in some countries are at best woefully inadequate, I think he is probably correct.

More here.