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Deterrence & Justice, page 2


Some of the retentionists' arguments for the death penalty as a deterrent for crime include studies that show how for every one person executed there is presumably so many others deterred from committing violent crimes. Since 1995 more than a dozen studies published claim a strong deterrent effect that can prevent 3 to 18 homicides for every one execution. There is reason to believe, and common sense would entail, that the death penalty may deter some people from committing some violent crimes; however, does it deter more than other forms of punishment enough to justify its retention? Some abolitionists would counter that from the studies mentioned above, all but one lump all forms of murder together to include some types of murder which may be poor candidates for deterrence (such as crimes of passion or jealousy). The one study that looked at specific crime categories found "domestic" homicide more deterrable than others, it also showed that "domestic" homicide have been steadily on the decline since the 1970's regardless of change in the number of people put to death since capital punishment was reinstated following the Gregg vs. Georgia in 1976. [1]

Other analyses showed that nearly all of the presumed deterrent effects are confined to one state (Texas) and only for a few years in which there were more than 5 executions [1]. Most studies also failed to take into account the deterrent effect of the most popular alternative to capital punishment, life without parole sentences (LWOP) [1]. According to a May 2004 Gallup poll, 62% of Americans said the death penalty does not deter crime.[2] Some abolitionists claim that LWOP would be as deterrent as the death penalty; retantionists would point out that most of those persecuted in the U.S.A. who risk the death penalty ask for LWOP instead of the death sentence.[3] This kind of statement from a convict is usually non-existent in the case of terrorists, for example. For terrorists, dying for their cause is an honor and some believe that this actually causes more followers and believers to commit more acts of terror; death does not deter but empowers religious terrorists. Both anti and pro arguments show how neither punishment is actually successful at deterring violent crimes from being committed in the first place. The fact that a crime defendant would ask for LWOP instead of death is not a determining factor for declaring the death penalty as having the most deterrent effect since the criminal could not know which sentence he/she would get before the crime is committed.

Mounting data shows discredit to the claim that the death sentence's deterrent effect is a strong reason for its retention. A New York Times survey published in 2000 reported that ten of the twelve states without the death penalty have homicide rates below the national average, half of the states with the death penalty have homicide rates above the average (Based on DPIC chart from statistics found in the FBI Uniform Crime Report.)[4] Internationally, data released by the British Home Office reveals that the United States has a murder rate that is more than three times that of many European countries that have banned capital punishment (Data 1997-1999).[5] Retentionists such as John McAdams from Marquette University, in the department of political science, have a different approach and commented on the death penalty and deterrence…"If we execute and there is in fact no deterrent effect, we have killed a bunch of murderers. If we fail to execute murderers, and doing so would in fact have deterred other murderers, we have allowed the killing of innocent victims."[6] In order for this statement to have a real sense of legitimacy, we would have to assume that it is our "right" to kill those who kill, then we have to assume that the person is actually guilty of the crime in all of the cases and then we would have to assume that death penalty sentences are not biased towards minorities, youth, and those belonging to the lower class. The presence of a combination of these factors would and is what makes the death penalty too flawed to ever function.

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