Given that Americans’ second most common justification for the death penalty’s fairness is its provision of “satisfaction and closure” to the victim’s loved ones, it’s astounding to me that Kelly Siegler (“Prosecutor-for-Hire”, according to her tagline) admits in a blog post that there’s no such thing as closure (H/T AHCL). A successful death penalty prosecutor concedes that, where closure is concerned, the emperor has no clothes: it’s astounding not because of the novelty of the idea, for it isn’t novel — anyone not steeped in overwrought victimology can intuit that there can be no “closure” for the death of a child — but because it weakens the justification for a penalty of which the prosecutor is unabashedly in favor.
Lindsay Beyerstein writes in Majikthise of calls for closure masking retributivism:
Medicalization sidesteps questions of justice. According to old fashioned retributivism, victims are entitled to see their loved ones avenged. This concept of entitlement is rooted in justice, not benificence. Retributivists say that victims have a right to see offenders punished fairly, not to whatever punishment makes them feel the best. Once we start talking about providing closure for survivors, we ellide the questions of justice. Closure is supposed to be something that survivors need for their mental health. Closure is about what makes someone feel better, not about what is just. By assigning such overwhelming importance to the nebulous idea of closure, we are outsourcing retributivism. We are saying that survivors need to exact retribution in order to heal, perhaps because they regard a particular punishment as the only acceptable outcome. Appeals to closure are an excuse to ignore the question of whether we think what they want is just.
The argument that the death penalty heals survivors — that retribution is indicated (in a medical sense) to provide closure — has no more legs. With “closure” removed from the death penalty equation, what’s left? The usual suspects: deterrence (general and specific); incapacitation; and, of course, good ol’ naked retribution, retribution for its own sake, an eye for an eye.