But it turns out that is also a tricky proposition. The bar to convict individuals of a crime is high, and criminal activity can be difficult to detect, especially when workers and executives are part of a large, publicly held firm.
"Most corporate crimes are very complicated and involve behaviors — for example, the release of financial statements — that look a lot like normal business practices," Arlen said. "They do not announce themselves. There is no dead body on the street. There is no drug transaction."
That's part of why prosecutors have moved to using deferred prosecution agreements to encourage cooperation with companies as a way at getting at the guilty individuals. But there are still concerns about whether those individuals are ever actually held accountable.
"If you create an environment where employees recognize that they will be liable even if they are following orders, you'd get more resistance" to doing something illegal "and more actions by employees to document managerial involvement and therefore more ability to get the managers," Arlen said, adding that stronger whistle-blower laws and better funding of enforcement agencies could help.
Meanwhile, there are other cases pending that could redeem the perception of the government by pursuing individual prosecutions, including its handling of a long-running rate-manipulation scheme involving the London interbank offered rate.
The Justice Department settled with UBS last month, and has filed charges against two of the bank's former traders. A number of investigations against other banks involved in the Libor scandal are still pending, according to press reports.
"Libor is a new set of issues, and it may be that a very slow-to-gear-up Justice Department and FBI are now more organized in a resource-heavy way and may do a more credible and thorough investigation on Libor than they did on HSBC or the financial crisis," said Connaughton.
Changes in management at the top of Barclays as a result of the Libor crisis may be evidence of how corporate cultures can be changed as a result of vigorous prosecution.
"Anthony Jenkins, who replaced Bob Diamond as CEO at Barclays in the wake of the Libor scandal, … has been steadily taking Barclays back to its more traditional, much less freewheeling culture," Baxter said. "This … is a salutary example of how vigorous enforcement action can help change the culture of greed at financial institutions, and that Jenkins is displaying the kind of leadership that offers hope of real transformation of the industry for the better."