Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Death Penalty and Deterrence: Irrational murderers expected to act rationally

Last week an Associated Press article about the deterrent effect of the death penalty created some temporary buzz. Trouble was that the studies that inspired the article have all been debunked for poor methodology.

Cassy Stubbs, a staff attorney with the ACLU Capital Punishment Project, effectively answered the points raised in the AP article with a piece at Huffington Post.
A June 10 Associated Press article pointed to statistical studies that claimed to directly link numbers of executions with numbers of murders prevented, including a 2003 study from the University of Colorado at Denver and studies from 2003 and 2006 by researchers at Emory University. But follow-up studies by top social scientists soundly reject those conclusions as well as the flawed methodology used to reach them. Jeffrey Fagan, a professor at Columbia Law School and an expert on statistics, testified to Congress that the Emory and Denver studies were "fraught with numerous technical and conceptual errors," and "fail[ed] to reach the demanding standards of social science."

The truth is that it might be impossible to determine a true statistical relationship between homicides and executions because the number of executions is so small compared to the number of homicides. But what we can say with certainty is that there is no legitimate statistical evidence of deterrence.

Cassy's post points out the comparison in homicide rates between the U.S. and Canada, which has no death penalty. My answer to all of this is pretty simple: If the death penalty is a deterrent, why does Texas consistently have one of the highest murder rates in the country? (I can already hear the answer from the trolls- "It's all those Mexicans!")

Andy in Harrisburg



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have no data to support my view but given the innate abhorence of killing, I've always argued that all murders occur under one of three scenarios, none of which is rational:

1) passion, such as spouse killing spouse in a rage over real or imagined slights,

2) cold calculation—a robber, thief, or high-jacker wants something—money, drugs, etc.

3) the murderer is mentally deranged in some way.

None think through the consequences of their actions other than the immediate gratification with the possible exception of #2, where in theory there is time to consider the penalty, if caught. Of course, those folks believe they'll never be caught.

So for me the death penalty as deterrent is useless, being as it assumes that murderers are rational.

3:31 PM  
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