The death penalty is one of the most controversial laws that are on the books in the United States. The US is one of the world leaders in criminal executions, even with an average of about 40 per year, and there are many calls to end this practice altogether. What is the main reason for using the death penalty? That it is able to deter crime.
A 2009 study specifically targeting the deterrence issue within capital punishment shows that a penalty of death does not add any deterrent effects to those that are already achieved by a life sentence in prison.
Capital Punishment Deterrence
This is true even when focusing on specific homicides, such as the murder of a police officer. After surveying a 13 year period of police homicides, there was no consistent evidence to show that capital punishment was a deterrent to committing a crime. Although on paper it seems like the threat of death would be a good deterrent, in reality it seems to make no difference whatsoever.
- According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, the places in the country that utilize the death penalty are the least safest places for police officers to work.
- The three states with the highest rates of felony murders of police officers are the three states that execute the most criminals annually or have the highest death row populations.
- States that do not have the death penalty as a deterrent have consistently lower murder rates than states that do have the death penalty.
It would be one thing if the research took place over a period of 3-5 years, but this is data that has been examined since 1990. Every year, murder rates in states with death penalty laws are higher than states without death penalty laws and sometimes the difference is over 40%. In some specific instances, it is probably true that the death penalty has a deterrent effect on the decision to commit a crime, but from a societal perspective, the data seems to support a move away from the death penalty instead of a move toward it.
What Does The Research Say About Capital Punishment?
- There is no specific data that supports or denies the actual effectiveness of capital punishment when used in society.
- In the US, homicide rates would either rise or fall as death penalty enforcements either increased or decreased.
- In a study that was conducted in 2006, it was discovered that for every convicted criminal that is executed, five fewer murders will happen because of that specific event.
- A 2000 ban on executions that was placed into effect in Illinois is believed to have increased the homicide rates by at least 150 per year.
- If death penalty enforcements were faster, it is believed that there would be a better deterrent effect for society – for about every 3 years of faster enforcement, it is believed that at least 1 homicide could be prevented.
- Only 5% of people in a recent survey stated that they believed, however, that the death penalty had a deterrent effective.
- It costs up to 70% more to try a case in the judicial system under capital punishment laws than it is to prosecute the case with a lower homicide charge.
The tide is definitely shifting away from the use of the death penalty. With execution problems in more than one state happening because of new drug combinations and pharmaceutical companies refusing to provide lethal injection drugs, the time is coming when the US will need to look at alternatives. Will the death penalty just be abolished because it is seen as being too cruel for society? Or will alternative forms of the death penalty be reinstated as some legislators are suggesting, using anything from hanging to firing squads?
What Do People Have to Say About Capital Punishment Today?
- Most people, in a recent survey, preferred that a criminal be given alternatives to capital punishment during the sentencing phase of a trial for a capital crime.
- Death penalty convictions have reached their lowest levels since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976.
- Although executions are half of what they were from a national perspective from the record highs of the late 1990’s, the US is still routinely ranked in the Top 5 of countries who execute people.
- According to a 2007 research study, a third of African American inmates that were convicted of a capital crime would have only been sentenced to life in prison if they’d been white instead of black.
- The overall firearm-related death rate among US children under the age of 15 is 12 times higher than children in 25 other industrialized countries combined.
- The homicide rates in the US were the death penalty is more prevalent is nearly 16 times higher than combining all of the other countries in a recent survey.
- 75% of people believe that increasing the amount of executions or lessening the time of a convict on death row will not have a deterrent effect.
Although the United States speaks of being the greatest country in the world, in terms of violence statistics, that may not be the case when compared to other industrialized nations. For example, 35 people per 1 million are killed by handguns in the US each year according to 1998 research data. The next closest country was Switzerland and their rate was 13.5 per 1 million people per capita. Every other industrialized country had a rate that was below 5 per 1 million, with many being below 1 per every million people. It is clear that something needs to be changed because although crime is consistently lower, the execution rates remain the same and there are millions who are incarcerated every year. Capital punishment may deter some, but it is apparent that it doesn’t deter most.