- Published: November 19, 2012
Studies on whether capital punishment deters murder or not have proven to be inconclusive. Some studies say yes; some say no. Unsurprisingly, some of the interpretation of the data is based on political views. However, some economists claim to be personally against the death penalty, yet have found that it does deter murder. I am suspicious of the studies that claim that every execution deters a certain number of murders. It seems suspect to quantify something like that. I am not familiar enough with the methodology of any particular study to make this judgment, but it seems that the type of study that has been conducted suggests correlation, rather than causation. Undoubtedly each execution “deters,” or rather completely prevents, that particular person from committing other murders, which could be one explanation of the data. However, in terms of deterring other would-be murderers, I don’t think it has a deterrent effect.
Some critics have expressed skepticism about the studies claiming that the death penalty deters murder on the same grounds that I do. Namely, I don’t think that many of the people that commit murders follow the same thought processes as other people. Economists have found the concept of the death penalty as a deterrent appealing because it conforms to the economic principle that as the costs of something go up, people are less likely to do it. Therefore if the cost of murdering someone could go so high as death, it makes sense that people would be less likely to murder. I don’t think that this economic principle really applies in this case. The death penalty is applied way to unevenly to serve as a viable threat to criminal behavior. Furthermore, it is likely that many of the people committing the types of murders that are likely to get them put on death row have some form of antisocial personality disorder. People with this type of disorder don’t have the same reward and punishment rational systems that other people have, and thus are less likely to include possible execution for crimes in their decision-making schema.
The debate over whether or not capital punishment truly serves as a deterrent to violent crime is so contested that it is unlikely an answer will be forthcoming. Given the fact that statistical data is so easily manipulated, I think there will continue to be opposing answers that surface on this issue relating to ideological differences. Precisely because the findings of all of these studies are so inconclusive, this shouldn’t have a bearing on whether or not capital punishment is legal in this country or not. Ultimately the answer to that question is almost purely ideological, in that we as a country will have to decide is we continue the practice of state-sponsored murder, although most other first world countries have long since discontinued this practice