Study Finds No Evidence Death Penalty Deters Crime

By Johnson, Kevin | The Christian Century, May 16, 2012 | Go to article overview

Study Finds No Evidence Death Penalty Deters Crime


Johnson, Kevin, The Christian Century


IN THE MORE than three decades since the national moratorium on the death penalty was lifted, no reliable research has emerged on whether capital punishment has served as a deterrent, according to a review by the National Research Council.

The review, partially funded by the Justice Department's National Institute of Justice, found that one of the major shortcomings in all previous studies is the "incomplete or implausible" measures of how potential murderers perceive the risk of execution as a possible consequence of their actions. Another flaw, according to the review, is that previous research never considered the impact of lesser punishments, such as life in prison without the possibility of parole.

"Fundamental flaws in the research we reviewed make it of no use in answering the question of whether the death penalty affects homicide rates," said Carnegie Mellon University professor Daniel Nagin, who chaired the council's study committee.

Nagin said April 18 that the panel reviewed the work of "dozens" of researchers since a 1976 Supreme Court decision ended a four-year national moratorium on executions.

"We recognize that this conclusion may be controversial to some," Nagin said, "but no one is well served by unsupportable claims about the effect of the death penalty, regardless of whether the claim is that the death penalty deters homicides, has no effect on homicide rates or actually increases homicides."

The council announced its conclusions exactly a week after the Connecticut legislature voted to abolish capital punishment for future crimes following a lengthy debate that cited a lack of evidence about deterrence among the reasons for its repeal in favor of life in prison without parole. …

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