Facts about Deterrence and the Death Penalty

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“I ... know that in practice, [the death penalty] does more harm than good. So while I hang on to my theoretical views, as I’m sure many of you will, I stand before you to say that society is better off without capital punishment… Life in prison without parole in a maximum-security detention facility is a better alternative.”

-Police Chief James Abbott of West Orange, New Jersey (2010)

Discussion of Recent Deterrence Studies

Murder Rates by State

Difference in Murder Rates in Death Penalty and Non-Death Penalty States

Law Enforcement Views on Deterrence

Fighting Crime in the U.S. and Internationally: Is the Death Penalty Necessary? A Conversation Between U.S. and European Law Enforcement

Criminologists' Views on Deterrence: 2008
(see also 1998)


Murder of Children: How the U.S. Compares with Other Countries

Fact sheets from Equal Justice USA and Death Penalty Focus on the death penalty and prison murders

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News and Developments - Previous Years

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Last updated October 28, 2013

 

 

Criminologists' Views on Deterrence and the Death Penalty

A recent survey of the most leading criminologists in the country from found that the overwhelming majority did not believe that the death penalty is a proven deterrent to homicide.  Eighty-eight percent of the country’s top criminologists do not believe the death penalty acts as a deterrent to homicide, according to a new study published in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology and authored by Professor Michael Radelet, Chair of the Department of Sociology at the University of Colorado-Boulder, and Traci Lacock, also at Boulder.  

Similarly, 87% of the expert criminologists believe that abolition of the death penalty would not have any significant effect on murder rates. In addition, 75% of the respondents agree that “debates about the death penalty distract Congress and state legislatures from focusing on real solutions to crime problems.”

The survey relied on questionnaires completed by the most pre-eminent criminologists in the country, including Fellows in the American Society of Criminology; winners of the American Society of Criminology’s prestigious Southerland Award; and recent presidents of the American Society of Criminology.  Respondents were not asked for their personal opinion about the death penalty, but instead to answer on the basis of their understandings of the empirical research.     
 

(M. Radelet and T. Lacock, DO EXECUTIONS LOWER HOMICIDE RATES?: THE VIEWS OF LEADING CRIMINOLOGISTS, 99 Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 489 2009)

To read the study, click here.

 

Scientific American Podcast - August 2011

U.C. Berkeley School of Law professor Franklin Zimring talks about his article, "How New York Beat Crime," in the August issue of Scientific American.  (Broadcast date: 8/9/2011)


 DPIC on the Issues Podcast Episode 4: Deterrence

 
The fourth in a series on death penalty issues (see DPIC podcasts).

It might seem that the prospect of receiving a death sentence would deter would-be murderers from committing such offenses.  However, many studies on deterrence and the death penalty do not support this idea, nor does the rate of murders in states with the death penalty. The murder rate in states that do not have the death penalty is consistently lower than in states with the death penalty.  The South, which carries out over 80% of the executions in the U. S., has the highest murder rate of the four regions. Read More.

For the downloadable podcast about deterrence, click here. (July 9, 2009).



Criminologists report that the death penalty does not deter murder

A recent study published in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology reported that 88% of the country’s top criminologists surveyed do not believe the death penalty acts as a deterrent to homicide.  Eighty-seven percent of them think that the abolition of the death penalty would not have a significant effect on murder rates and 77% believe that “debates about the death penalty distract Congress and state legislatures from focusing on real solutions to crime problems.” (M. Radelet and T. Lacock, DO EXECUTIONS LOWER HOMICIDE RATES?: THE VIEWS OF LEADING CRIMINOLOGISTS, 99 Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 489 (2009)). Read More.


For more information, see DPIC's Page on Deterrence