STUDIES: Researchers Find "No Empirical Support" for Deterrence Theory

Researchers from the University of Texas at Dallas recently published a study on whether executions deter homicides using state panel date and employing well-known econometric procedures for panel analysis. The authors found "no empirical support for the argument that the existence or application of the death penalty deters prospective offenders from committing homicide."  The study was published in the journal of Criminology and Public Policy and authored by Tomislav V. Kovandzic, Lynne M. Vieraitis and Denise Paquette Boots, all professors of criminology.  The study concluded, "In sum, our finding of no deterrent effect of the DP (death penalty) on homicide suggests the risk of execution does not enhance the level of deterrence. Therefore, we conclude that although policy makers and the public may continue to support the use of the death penalty based on retribution, religious grounds, or other justifications, defending its use based on deterrence is inconsistent with our findings. At a minimum, policy makers should refrain from justifying its use by claiming that it is a deterrent to homicide and explore less costly, more effective ways of addressing crime."

The authors stated their study contributes to the literature regarding deterrence as it:

  • remedies statistical problems found in several recent DP studies reporting robust deterrent effects;
  • controls for a larger number of potential confounding factors that are theoretically grounded, including several crime policy variables (e.g., three-strikes laws and right-to-carry concealed handgun laws) and historical events (e.g., U.S. imprisonment binge and crack-cocaine epidemic of the 1980s) that have been linked with cross-temporal changes in homicide rates in the post-moratorium era;
  • extends the analysis to include additional years (beyond 2000) not covered in recent state panel DP papers.

(T. Kovandzic, L. Vieraitis and D. Paquette Boots, "Does the death penalty save lives? New evidence from state panel data, 1977 to 2006," 8 Criminology & Public Policy 803 (2009)).  See also Deterrence and Studies.