Deterrence: Does It Prevent Others
from Committing Murder?
The death penalty is a warning, just like a lighthouse throwing its beams out to sea.
We hear about shipwrecks, but we do not hear about the ships the lighthouse guides
safely on their way. We do not have proof of the number of ships it saves, but we do
not tear the lighthouse down.
HYMAN BARSHAY, POET, quoted in NEITHER CRUEL NOR UNUSUAL
BY FRANK CARRINGTON
When Texans entered the fray over capital punishment in 1973, events occurring throughout the nation impinged on the nature and outcome of the debate. The nation had witnessed the struggle related to the civil-rights movement, the rise of the counterculture, student protests over the Vietnam War, and the breaking Watergate scandal. The events of this period fostered a high degree of distrust of the government and an unprecedented level of concern for the rights of minorities. Social movements spilled over into the courts and legislatures, where minorities pressed for recognition of their rights. Two key examples were the passage of the historic Civil Rights Act of 1965 and the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade.1 Benefits were also extended to other downtrodden groups. The mentally ill were deinstitutionalized, and a series of Supreme Court cases restricted the power of the police and offered those accused of crimes many additional legal protections, such as the right to counsel for indigents.
Although these events signaled for many the promise of a social transformation that would create a more just and inclusive society, for others these and associated occurrences signaled a deterioration of the social fabric that could lead to chaos and anarchy if not checked. Worsening disorder and crime—rates of serious crime in the United States doubled during the 1960s—were seen by many as evidence of both a dangerous trend and the failure of liberal social