After reading news items involving perpetrators who commit vicious, nasty crimes, I have to admit that I would get some pleasure from knowing they suffered from some form of punishment. Call it revenge, call it retributive justice, call it unChristian, call it what you will, I would receive some sense of satisfaction from knowing such criminals suffered fates worse than death.
I wrote about this topic a number of years ago. Here is a link to the paper I wrote. And here is the abstract:
It has sometimes been argued that one way to reduce the costs of law enforcement would be to reduce the probability of detection and conviction (hence saving those costs), while at the same time increasing the size of the punishment. Following this strategy would keep the expected costs (to a risk neutral criminal) of committing a crime constant and hence keep the deterrence level constant; it would have the benefit, though, of reducing costs to the rest of society.
There are some well-known objections to such a policy. One such objection deals with marginal deterrence: A convicted murderer serving a life sentence with no chance of parole in a jurisdiction which bans capital punishment has nothing to lose from killing a prison guard -- there is no marginal deterrence to the commission of a more serious crime or any additional crime for that matter. In fact, so long as there remains any upper limit to the amount of punishment that can be inflicted upon a convicted criminal, the only ways to create some type of marginal deterrence are to reduce the punishments for less serious crimes, which will either reduce the deterrence of those less serious crimes, or alternatively to require the use of more of society's scarce resources to increase the probabilities of apprehension and conviction.
It is possible to reduce this marginal deterrence problem, however, by practicing cruel and unusual punishment on perpetrators of serious crimes, i.e. by raising the limits of allowable punishment. Anecdotal evidence suggests this practice is followed unofficially with child molesters and killers of prison guards and hence provides some additional deterrence against these crimes.
Despite the theoretical validity of this argument, our society has chosen to impose a constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Furthermore, over time we seem to have lowered the threshold of what is considered cruel and unusual. Following Dr. Pangloss, the concluding section of the paper examines why rational maximizers would choose to give up this additional potential deterrence. The explanations depend upon an assumed positive income elasticity of demand for humanitarianism or for insurance against the costs of punishing the innocent. While there are some reasons to accept the humanitarianism argument, the insurance argument seems more persuasive.
For some of my earlier postings on the topic, see the following: