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Studies show Death Penalty works

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Studies show Death Penalty works

Postby TheRock » Mon Jun 11, 2007 3:08 pm

Not that "scientific research" is going to sway anyone's opinion on this, but it appears that perhaps the death penalty does deter murder.

Anti-death penalty forces have gained momentum in the past few years, with a moratorium in Illinois, court disputes over lethal injection in more than a half-dozen states and progress toward outright abolishment in New Jersey.

The steady drumbeat of DNA exonerations — pointing out flaws in the justice system — has weighed against capital punishment. The moral opposition is loud, too, echoed in Europe and the rest of the industrialized world, where all but a few countries banned executions years ago.

What gets little notice, however, is a series of academic studies over the last half-dozen years that claim to settle a once hotly debated argument — whether the death penalty acts as a deterrent to murder. The analyses say yes. They count between three and 18 lives that would be saved by the execution of each convicted killer.

The reports have horrified death penalty opponents and several scientists, who vigorously question the data and its implications.

So far, the studies have had little impact on public policy. New Jersey's commission on the death penalty this year dismissed the body of knowledge on deterrence as "inconclusive."

But the ferocious argument in academic circles could eventually spread to a wider audience, as it has in the past.

"Science does really draw a conclusion. It did. There is no question about it," said Naci Mocan, an economics professor at the University of Colorado at Denver. "The conclusion is there is a deterrent effect."

A 2003 study he co-authored, and a 2006 study that re-examined the data, found that each execution results in five fewer homicides, and commuting a death sentence means five more homicides. "The results are robust, they don't really go away," he said. "I oppose the death penalty. But my results show that the death penalty (deters) — what am I going to do, hide them?"

Statistical studies like his are among a dozen papers since 2001 that capital punishment has deterrent effects. They all explore the same basic theory — if the cost of something (be it the purchase of an apple or the act of killing someone) becomes too high, people will change their behavior (forego apples or shy from murder).

To explore the question, they look at executions and homicides, by year and by state or county, trying to tease out the impact of the death penalty on homicides by accounting for other factors, such as unemployment data and per capita income, the probabilities of arrest and conviction, and more.

Among the conclusions:

• Each execution deters an average of 18 murders, according to a 2003 nationwide study by professors at Emory University. (Other studies have estimated the deterred murders per execution at three, five and 14).

• The Illinois moratorium on executions in 2000 led to 150 additional homicides over four years following, according to a 2006 study by professors at the University of Houston.

• Speeding up executions would strengthen the deterrent effect. For every 2.75 years cut from time spent on death row, one murder would be prevented, according to a 2004 study by an Emory University professor.

In 2005, there were 16,692 cases of murder and nonnegligent manslaughter nationally. There were 60 executions.

The studies' conclusions drew a philosophical response from a well-known liberal law professor, University of Chicago's Cass Sunstein. A critic of the death penalty, in 2005 he co-authored a paper titled "Is capital punishment morally required?"

"If it's the case that executing murderers prevents the execution of innocents by murderers, then the moral evaluation is not simple," he told The Associated Press. "Abolitionists or others, like me, who are skeptical about the death penalty haven't given adequate consideration to the possibility that innocent life is saved by the death penalty."

Sunstein said that moral questions aside, the data needs more study.

Critics of the findings have been vociferous.

Some claim that the pro-deterrent studies made profound mistakes in their methodology, so their results are untrustworthy. Another critic argues that the studies wrongly count all homicides, rather than just those homicides where a conviction could bring the death penalty. And several argue that there are simply too few executions each year in the United States to make a judgment.

"We just don't have enough data to say anything," said Justin Wolfers, an economist at the Wharton School of Business who last year co-authored a sweeping critique of several studies, and said they were "flimsy" and appeared in "second-tier journals."

"This isn't left vs. right. This is a nerdy statistician saying it's too hard to tell," Wolfers said. "Within the advocacy community and legal scholars who are not as statistically adept, they will tell you it's still an open question. Among the small number of economists at leading universities whose bread and butter is statistical analysis, the argument is finished."

Several authors of the pro-deterrent reports said they welcome criticism in the interests of science, but said their work is being attacked by opponents of capital punishment for their findings, not their flaws.

"Instead of people sitting down and saying 'let's see what the data shows,' it's people sitting down and saying 'let's show this is wrong,'" said Paul Rubin, an economist and co-author of an Emory University study. "Some scientists are out seeking the truth, and some of them have a position they would like to defend."

The latest arguments replay a 1970s debate that had an impact far beyond academic circles.

Then, economist Isaac Ehrlich had also concluded that executions deterred future crimes. His 1975 report was the subject of mainstream news articles and public debate, and was cited in papers before the U.S. Supreme Court arguing for a reversal of the court's 1972 suspension of executions. (The court, in 1976, reinstated the death penalty.)

Ultimately, a panel was set up by the National Academy of Sciences which decided that Ehrlich's conclusions were flawed. But the new pro-deterrent studies haven't gotten that kind of scrutiny.

At least not yet. The academic debate, and the larger national argument about the death penalty itself — with questions about racial and economic disparities in its implementation — shows no signs of fading away.

Steven Shavell, a professor of law and economics at Harvard Law School and co-editor-in-chief of the American Law and Economics Review, said in an e-mail exchange that his journal intends to publish several articles on the statistical studies on deterrence in an upcoming issue.


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Re: Studies show Death Penalty works

Postby StlSluggers » Mon Jun 11, 2007 3:59 pm

"Instead of people sitting down and saying 'let's see what the data shows,' it's people sitting down and saying 'let's show this is wrong,'" said Paul Rubin
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Re: Studies show Death Penalty works

Postby Art Vandelay » Mon Jun 11, 2007 4:30 pm

The problem with articles like this one are that the author can selectively choose which studies to cite, and which to ignore. As quickly as he can point out studies that show that every execution deters somewhere between 3 and 18 murders, someone else can point out studies conducted during the same time period that show that execution does not deter murders. Lies, damn lies, and statistics. As always, it comes down to which sources you think are going to be more accurate, and which you think are going to be more agenda driven.

I've done a considerable amount of research into the death penalty, and in my estimation the multitude of people who have been wrongly convicted, those who have been cleared after spending years on death row, the innocents who have been executed, and the inherent flaws in the system are mroe than enough for me to believe that the death penalty should be abolished (at least as currently administered).
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Re: Studies show Death Penalty works

Postby deerayfan072 » Mon Jun 11, 2007 7:44 pm

Art Vandelay wrote:The problem with articles like this one are that the author can selectively choose which studies to cite, and which to ignore. As quickly as he can point out studies that show that every execution deters somewhere between 3 and 18 murders, someone else can point out studies conducted during the same time period that show that execution does not deter murders. Lies, damn lies, and statistics. As always, it comes down to which sources you think are going to be more accurate, and which you think are going to be more agenda driven.

I've done a considerable amount of research into the death penalty, and in my estimation the multitude of people who have been wrongly convicted, those who have been cleared after spending years on death row, the innocents who have been executed, and the inherent flaws in the system are mroe than enough for me to believe that the death penalty should be abolished (at least as currently administered).



Art i could not have said it better myself. I was going to respond after reading it, but you nailed it right on the head. Incidently, i was a crim major in Undergrad and did a lot of work on the death penalty. As the system is now, every time we execute someone we increase the percentage that will execute an innocent person exponetially. Go read books on people that were wrongly convicted and how obvious it was but was never found out. Innocent Man by John Grisham is a great one, i can put more in here when i get home that when you read you will change your tune on the DP.
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Re: Studies show Death Penalty works

Postby Coppermine » Mon Jun 11, 2007 8:01 pm

If the death penalty really works an effective deterrent, then I can certainly justify its use. But I'm not sure how convincing this article is.

What links the correlation of a decrease in the murder rate and executions? Furthermore, murder raters are largely down in this country across the board, not just in states that have a death penalty.
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Re: Studies show Death Penalty works

Postby deerayfan072 » Mon Jun 11, 2007 8:06 pm

Coppermine wrote:If the death penalty really works an effective deterrent, then I can certainly justify its use. But I'm not sure how convincing this article is.

What links the correlation of a decrease in the murder rate and executions? Furthermore, murder raters are largely down in this country across the board, not just in states that have a death penalty.


exactly, murder rates are down period, and anyone can use anything they have done to correlate it. This is like the theory in New York that Giuliani's enforcement of loitering, graffiti, etc etc stopped crime in NY, but really crime was decreasing across the board and had nothing to do with it.
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Re: Studies show Death Penalty works

Postby deerayfan072 » Mon Jun 11, 2007 11:31 pm

Some books that are interesting:

Life Without Parole, Living in Prison Today- written by an ex-law graduate who was convicted in 1981 of murder and was sentenced to life in prison. It talks about prision life, after reading that, trust me you will understand why prisoners do not mind death instead of prison.

Newjack by Ted Conover - Great book about a reporter who fooled the system and became a prison gaurd. Very interesting to see what prisons are like from this view.


The Last Face you will ever see by Ivan Solotaroff - In fascinating detail, Ivan Solotaroff introduces us to men who carry out executions. Although the emphasis is on the personal lives of these men and of those they have to put to death, The Last Face You'll Ever See also addresses some of the deeper issues of the death penalty and connects the veiled, elusive figure of the executioner to the vast majority of Americans who have claimed to support executions since 1977. This book changed how i felt about the death penalty. The DP effects a lot more people than you think. Executioners have killed themselves over it.
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Re: Studies show Death Penalty works

Postby sportsaddict » Mon Jun 11, 2007 11:59 pm

I am kind of on both sides of the issue. Personally I feel that spending the rest of your life on Earth in jail would be more of a punishment than dying. But I can see why the death penalty can be justified. Overall I am against the death penalty unless there is clear evidence against the accused and there is no doubt whatsoever.
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Re: Studies show Death Penalty works

Postby wrveres » Tue Jun 12, 2007 1:03 am

The fact that as a country we only put down 60 people in 2005 versus 16,000 homicides, screams small sample size.
There is one way to know for sure though. Just use something like Texas' "Fast Lane to the Chair" as a nationwide policy.
If three people saw you commit the crime, and you are convicted by your peers. You should be put down within a year.

Just my guess, but I bet homicides nationwide .. plummet.

I could be wrong, but I doubt it.
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Re: Studies show Death Penalty works

Postby ironman » Tue Jun 12, 2007 7:14 am

Studies have shown that the death penalty works in successfully executing criminals.
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