Justified Anger, Just Retribution

Imprimis, Hillsdale College, June 1974.


Between 1966 and 1971 the U.S. murder rate increased by 52 percent, and the crime rate as a whole by 74 percent, as reported in Crime in the United States: Uniform Crime Reports, 1971. Crimes of violence (murder, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault) went up 80 percent. In 1971 there were 5,995,200 index crimes (crimes catalogued by the FBI) reported to the police, and everyone knows that a large number of crimes are never reported to the police. The proportion of arrests to crimes reported was only 19 percent, persons charged 17 percent, persons convicted as charged five percent, and persons convicted of lesser offenses .9 percent. All of which means that punishment was meted out in only 5.7 percent of the known cases of crime.

The conclusion is inescapable: crime pays. Moreover, some authorities insist that most crimes are not reported to the police and that only one and a half percent of all crimes are unpunished, which is to say that 98.5 percent of the crimes committed go unpunished. There is good reason to believe that something is wrong; there is no reason yet to believe—by which I mean, there is no reason in these statistics to believe—that what is wrong could be put right by the imposition of more severe punishments, although there is reason to believe that it might be put right by more punishments, or by a greater rate of punishments, a rate sufficient to allow us to say that crime does not pay, or does not pay so well.

Hillsdale College