Death Penalty -- it Doesn't Really Deter Essay

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Death Penalty -- it Doesn't Really Deter Crime

Why are some states still putting criminals to death when the available, credible research clearly shows that capital punishment does not deter crime? Capital punishment has been used for punishment for centuries by a myriad of societies and in the American experience it has always been controversial. Today many people see capital punishment as a way to get tough on crime and they believe in the ancient concept of "an eye for an eye" in many cases. But this paper will point out the fallacies in the pro-capital punishment arguments, and the paper will present scholarly research on why the Death Penalty is wrong and should be ended.

Pro and Con

One can easily find research (and opinion) that supports the death penalty; for example, Dr. David B. Muhlhausen, senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation's Center believes the death penalty saves lives. He testified before the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Property Rights of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, saying that "several studies have demonstrated a link between executions and decreases in murder rates" (Muhlhausen, 2007). In fact Muhlhausen sites the "Dezhbakshs study" that claims "on average" every execution results in "18 fewer murders" (Muhlhausen, p. 1).

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Regarding the assertion that putting a capital criminal to death saves lives, Dr. Richard Berk, Professor of Criminology and Statistics at the University of Pennsylvania, states that there are "…many statistical problems with the data" involved in research (Berk, 2005). When one reanalyzes the data, Berk writes, most states in most years "execute no one" and a very few states…execute more than five individuals. Such values represent about 1% of the available observations." Hence, Berk continues, claims of deterrence "are a statistical artifact of this anomalous 1%" (Berk, p. 2).

TOPIC: Essay on Death Penalty -- it Doesn't Really Deter Assignment

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) states that there is "…no credible evidence that the death penalty deters crime more effectively than long terms of imprisonment" (ACLU, 2007). States that have death penalty laws "do not have lower crime rates…than states without such laws," the ACLU asserts. "Claims that each execution deters a certain number of murders have been thoroughly discredited by social science research. People commit murders largely in the heat of passion…the few murderers who plan their crimes beforehand -- for example, professional executioners -- intend and expect to avoid punishment altogether by not getting caught" (ACLU, p. 1-2).

Former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno writes that in her adult life she has inquired about studies "…that might show that the death penalty is a deterrent" (Reno, 2000). but, she adds, "…I have not seen any research that would substantiate that point."

Meantime Ernest Van Den Haag, former Professor of Jurisprudence at Fordham University, expressed the view that "Common sense, lately bolstered by statistics, tells us that the death penalty will deter murder, if anything can" (Ban Den Haag, 1983). He doesn't say what statistics he is alluding to and concludes his essay with the thought that "…we must execute murderers as long as it is merely possible that their execution protects citizens from future murder" (Ban Den Haag, p. 3).

Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall wrote that the data available "…show no correlation between the existence of capital punishment and lower rates of capital crime" (Marshall, 1972). "In light of the massive amount of evidence before us, I see no alternative but to conclude that capital punishment cannot be justified on the basis of its deterrent effect" (Marshall, p. 4).

A recent study by Pepperdine University professors Roy d. Adler and Michael Summers has added fuel to the fire of the debate about capital punishment. Adler's group has come up with statistical "evidence" that for every person put to death under capital punishment protocols saves 74 lives ( According to a report in the Website for the Center for Individual Freedom (CFIF), the Adler research examined the number of executions in the 26-year period from 1979 to 2004, "and correlated the number of executions in America to the number of murders during that span" (CFIF, p. 2).

"It became immediately clear," the CFIF report enthused, "that as executions in America increase, murders decrease…[and] when executions decreased, murders increased." Taking no chances that their math and data analysis would be tested, Adler and Summers "conducted a grueling statistical regression analysis" and "to their surprise, their regression analysis established that the odds against the pattern being random were approximately 18,000 to 1" (CFIF).

But Professor Jeffrey a. Fagen, professor of law and public health at Columbia Law School, finds the data from the Pepperdine research -- and from other studies -- lacking in credibility. Most of the studies "fail to account for incarceration rates or life sentences, factors that may drive down crime rates via deterrence or incapacitation," he says (Fagen, 2008). The studies fail to examine separately the "subset of murders that are eligible for the death penalty, instead lumping all homicides together," he explains. Moreover, he points out that there were 16,137 murders in 2004 (FBI statistics) but only 125 death sentences handed out and 59 persons ("most of whom were convicted a decade earlier") were executed. There are "no direct tests of deterrence among murderers, nor are there studies showing their awareness of executions in their own state, much less in a faraway state" (Fagen, p. 2).

There is no evidence that "if aware of the possibility of execution," Fagen continues, "a potential murderer would rationally decide to forego homicide and use less lethal forms of violence" (p. 2). He claims that murders go in a "cyclical" pattern for periods of 40 years and more, "not unlike epidemics of contagious diseases." Beyond the flawed data, Fagen recites costs related to capital punishment ($2.5 to $5 million per case) as opposed to keeping a prisoner incarcerated for life ($1 million for each killer sentenced to life without parole) (p. 2).

Data Regarding Capital Punishment

There are 15 of the 50 states that do not have the death penalty, according to the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC). They are Alaska, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia and Wisconsin. It is interesting that those states (except West Virginia and Hawaii) are in the northern and northeastern part of the country. Meantime, the total number of executions ( since 1973 is 138. By far the most executions have occurred in Texas (464 since 1973; 17 in 2010; 24 in 2009).

In terms of executions Texas is followed by Virginia (108 total; 3 in 2010; 3 in 2009); the third most executions since the death penalty was made legal in 1973 is Oklahoma (93 total; 2 in 2010; 3 in 2009); number 4 on the list of states that execute under the death penalty is Florida (69 total; 1 in 2010; 2 in 2009); and number 5 is Missouri (67 total; 0 in 2010; 1 in 2009).

The Death Penalty Information Center reports that the argument about cost-savings (i.e., killing the prisoner is cheaper than keeping him alive) is not valid, at least in California. To keep the death penalty system functioning it costs taxpayers pay $114 per year "beyond the costs of keeping convicts locked up for life," DPIC claims. The DPIC also quotes figures the LA Times used in a 2005 article: "Taxpayers have paid more than $250 million for each of the state's executions" (California has executed 13 individuals since 1973 and none in the past 2 years).

Scholarship on the Death Penalty

Piers Bannister, International Secretariat of Amnesty International, writes, "there can be little doubt that our world is inexorably moving towards being execution-free" (Bannister, 2008, p. 165). He is encouraged by the vote in the UN General Assembly in December 2007; the 104… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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