Death Penalty Does Not Deter Murder, According to New Study

June 17, 2009

Eighty-eight percent of the country's top criminologists do not believe the death penalty acts as a deterrent to homicide, according to a new study published today in Northwestern University School of Law's Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology authored by Professor Michael Radelet, chair of the sociology department at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and Traci Lacock, an attorney and CU-Boulder graduate student in sociology.

The study titled "Do Executions Lower Homicide Rates? The Views of Leading Criminologists" undermines deterrence as a rationale for maintaining the punishment, said Radelet, one of the nation's leading experts on the death penalty.

"These data show that deterrence, which in many circles is the strongest justification for the death penalty, falls on its face when closely examined by those who are best qualified to study and evaluate it," Radelet said. "Any justifications for the death penalty that might remain pale in comparison to drawbacks such as high costs, arbitrariness, executing the innocent and diverting resources from more effective ways to reduce crime and assist victims."

The study was conducted by sending questionnaires to the most pre-eminent criminologists in the country, including fellows of the American Society of Criminology, winners of the American Society of Criminology's prestigious Southerland Award and recent presidents of the American Society of Criminology. The American Society of Criminology is the top professional organization of criminologists in the world.

The 77 respondents were not asked for their personal opinion about the wisdom of the death penalty, but instead to answer the questions only on the basis of their understandings of the empirical research available on the subject.

Eighty-seven percent of the expert criminologists also believed that abolition of the death penalty would not have any significant effect on murder rates, Radelet said. And 75 percent of the respondents agreed that "debates about the death penalty distract Congress and state legislatures from focusing on real solutions to crime problems."

"Our survey indicates that the vast majority of the world's top criminologists believe that the empirical research has revealed the deterrence hypothesis for a myth," Radelet and Lacock wrote. "The consensus among criminologists is that the death penalty does not add any significant deterrent effect above that of long-term imprisonment."

Source: University of Colorado

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5 / 5 (2) Jun 17, 2009
'High cost' of death penalty- is this the cost of multiple appeals vs the cost of lifetime incarceration? What is the recidivism rate for murderers released to reoffend and the associated costs to capture, prosecute, and house them again? A complete assessment would be more informative and less suspect.
2.3 / 5 (3) Jun 17, 2009
Having to go to jail could probably be shown to not deter murder. Ergo, since it is more expensive to send murderers to jail than not to do so, don't bother to send them to jail!
4 / 5 (1) Jun 17, 2009
Otto- studies about the high costs of the death penalty have shown that the largest chunks are incurred at the beginning of the process- before and during the initial trial.
5 / 5 (1) Jun 17, 2009
It may not deter people bent on murder, but it sure makes the family of the victim feel MUCH MUCH better....That alone is worth every penny for the children of murder victims.
1 / 5 (1) Jun 21, 2009
Really? I think if you check the murder rates of countries with and without the death penalty you WILL see the difference.

Saudi Arabia Murders per capita: 0.00397456 per 1,000 people

United States Murders per capita: 0.042802 per 1,000 people(nearly 10 times the rate of Saudi Arabia)

Source: Seventh United Nations Survey of Crime Trends and Operations of Criminal Justice Systems, covering the period 1998 - 2000 (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Centre for International Crime Prevention)
5 / 5 (1) Jun 21, 2009
I do not believe that capital punishment is an effective deterrent to homicide, I do not believe that revenge is a valid justification for capital punishment, and I definitely do not believe that a persons life should be entered on to a balance sheet to ascertain whether it's cheeper to lock them up or kill them.

Paradox, you should be more careful when cherry picking figures, they can be turned round and used against you.

1 Colombia: 0.617847 per 1,000 people
2 South Africa: 0.496008 per 1,000 people
4 Venezuela: 0.316138 per 1,000 people
6 Mexico: 0.130213 per 1,000 people
7 Estonia: 0.107277 per 1,000 people
9 Lithuania: 0.102863 per 1,000 people

Six out of the top ten do not have the death penalty.
not rated yet Jun 22, 2009
I have my doubts as to the validity of ivory-tower academicians claims that the death penalty does not 'deter' individual murderers. C'st la vie. Psychologists/sociologists investigating murders however feed on the study of the homicidal while bemoaning the horror of capital punishment. Lawyers, Judges, Prisons and their operative minions would have to be severely curtailed in number and cost if the tens of thousands of brutal monsters in our prisons were not kept locked up, for life. The only purpose a life imprisonment sentence serves is to feed the twisted perversions of those who created, maintain and warehouse history's largest prison system.

In the old days warrants were posted that read "Wanted: DEAD or Alive" -'Dead' came first. Placing monsters in cages for 50 or more years is not humane, it is insane. Shoot them, inject them, render them for their component parts. Do not ever think that Life Imprisonment is humane.
not rated yet Jul 03, 2009
Realy, Paradox? Your comparison would only be accurate if the U.S. DIDN'T have the death penalty... but it does.

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