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Please consider supporting us by disabling your ad blocker. Demonstration against the death penalty in Paris. Disclosure statement John Donohue does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment. Partners The Conversation UK receives funding from Hefce, Hefcw, SAGE, SFC, RCUK, The Nuffield Foundation, The Ogden Trust, The Royal Society, The Wellcome Trust, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and The Alliance for Useful Evidence, as well as sixty five university members. European Union and in 101 countries around the world But does the death penalty save lives? Some feel the question of whether the death penalty deters can be argued as a matter of theory: capital punishment is worse than other penalties therefore it must lead to fewer killings. This contention misses much of the complexity of the modern death penalty.
First, theory can’t tell us whether the spectacle of state-sanctioned killings operates to unhinge marginal minds into thinking that their own grievances merit similar forms of retribution that they then try to inflict on their own. Lack of evidence So what is the evidence on deterrence? Here the answer is clear: there is not the slightest credible statistical evidence that capital punishment reduces the rate of homicide. The report went on to say that the issue of deterrence should be removed from any discussion of the death penalty given this lack of credible evidence.
But if the deterrence argument disappears, so does the case for the death penalty. Troy Davis was executed in Georgia in September 2011. Those familiar with criminal justice issues are not surprised by the lack of deterrence. To get the death penalty in the United States one has to commit an extraordinarily heinous crime, as evidenced by the fact that last year roughly 14,000 murders were committed but only 35 executions took place. Since murderers typically expose themselves to far greater immediate risks, the likelihood is incredibly remote that some small chance of execution many years after committing a crime will influence the behaviour of a sociopathic deviant who would otherwise be willing to kill if his only penalty were life imprisonment.
Any criminal who actually thought he would be caught would find the prospect of life without parole to be a monumental penalty. Any criminal who didn’t think he would be caught would be untroubled by any sanction. Wasted resources A better way to address the problem of homicide is to take the resources that would otherwise be wasted in operating a death penalty regime and use them on strategies that are known to reduce crime, such as hiring and properly training police officers and solving crimes. Over the past three decades there has been a downward trend in the number of murders that lead to arrest and conviction to the point that only about half of all murders are now punished. The graphic below shows the steady decline in the number of homicides cleared by arrest in Connecticut, which mimics the national trend. Of course, even if there is an arrest, there may not be a conviction so the percentage of killers who are punished is smaller than this figure suggests.