Tuesday, June 19, 2007


Myth: The Death Penalty Deters Murder

As many of you know, a June 10 Associated Press article pointed to statistical studies from the University of Colorado at Denver and Emory University claiming to demonstrate that the death penalty serves as a deterrent to homicide. What I haven't seen in the press are the follow up studies by top social scientists, such as Jeffrey Fagan of Columbia University, which reject those conclusions as well as the flawed methodology used to reach them.

However, ACLU staff attorney, Cassy Stubbs, recently summarized the various problems with the Emory and U of Colorado studies while referring to more reliable studies, which showed that the death penalty not only does not have a deterrent effect on the murder rate but may actually increase the number of murders. In fact, one of the Emory researchers claiming the deterrent effect, Joanna Shepherd, published her own study of various states with the death penalty which showed that the death penalty did deter murder in 6 states, but increased murder in 13 states, while having no effect in 8.

While I admit, wading through these statistics can be tedious, for me, the telling facts about deterrence are fairly straightforward. States without the death penalty continue to have lower murder rates than do states with the death penalty; and Southern states, accounting for over 80% of executions in the U.S., have consistently higher murder rates than the other four regions of the country. Let's face it, if executions had any deterrent effect, Texas would have little violent crime, which, as we know, is not the case.

Considering the fact that all other Western, industrialized nations have abolished the death penalty and have much lower violent crime rates than the U.S., we would be wise to expend our resources and energy in examining the root causes of the violence in our country and exploring ways to prevent murders (i.e. early childhood programs, increased numbers of police officers on the streets, education and job training, more mental health care and drug treatment programs) as opposed to spending millions of dollars to react to the violence once a life has been taken.
Comments :
If the death penalty did deter, it would never have to be used, would it?
Well, you'd certainly think that if the death penalty deterred murder, we would have lowered the murder rate (and therefore the execution rate) in Texas quite a while ago!
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