MARTIN: One of the things that I really found fascinating about your reporting is that you made the argument that it’s not the severity of punishment that is the critical factor. It’s the certainty of being caught. It’s the certainty of some consequence, right? So tell me about this theory of swift, certain and fair. What exactly does that theory mean? And why—how did you come to the idea that it’s actually the swiftness of the response as opposed to the severity of the punishment that’s really the critical factor here?
MACGILLIS: The idea of swift and certain consequences has really come to be kind of a consensus in the field of criminology. And it can be traced to a criminologist by the name of Mark Kleiman, who’s no longer with us, but came up with this really persuasive idea that what matters when it comes to deterring criminal acts is not the severity of the possible punishment, that people are not thinking about, oh, I’m going to get 20 or 30 or 40 years if I do X or Y. What does matter is the likelihood that you’re going to get caught and that you’re going to face some consequence and you’re going to face some fairly swift and immediate consequences for breaking the law. And that’s what’s important as a deterrent, the likely – as a deterrence – the likelihood of some kind of consequence right off the bat.
Widespread closures of courts could have affected public safety trends nationally as defendants and suspects may have thought they would not face swift consequences while courts were closed, criminologists told a ProPublica reporter in July. What matters most when deterring criminal acts is not the severity of the possible punishment, but the likelihood that a suspect will be caught and face swift and immediate consequences for breaking the law, according to a theory by the late criminologist Mark Kleiman.