Does the death penalty really deter criminals?

By By Sabina Imanbekova

By Sabina Imanbekova

A recent Associated Press article analyzed new findings in a decades-old debate on whether the death penalty deters crime. Among other conclusions, several studies determined that each execution deters three to 14 murders. A 2003 Emory University nationwide study concluded that one execution prevented 18 homicides.

Not only do these studies seem unreliable, but the numbers alone aren’t enough to convince me that the death penalty is a necessary form of punishment.

Arguments over deterrence have raged on since the 1970s, when a special panel from the National Academy of Sciences invalidated a similar report presented by economist Isaac Ehrlich.

The Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) — a non-profit organization supplying neutral information on capital punishment issues — mentions a 2000 survey by The New York Times that found that during the past 20 years, the murder rate in states with the death penalty has been 48 to 101 percent higher than in states without the death penalty.

Amnesty International USA reiterates these discoveries, and quotes the Bureau of Justice Statistics report comparing homicide rates and executions between the north and south. Southern states account for 80 percent of executions and consistently display the highest murder rate. The Northeast, which accounts for less than 1 percent of national executions, has the lowest homicide rate.

With this information available, perhaps it’s time for the justice system to reconsider whether or not the death penalty actually serves the purpose it was meant to serve — deterring future crime.

Whether or not the statistics and analysis ever show a significant correlation between the death penalty and crime prevention, findings from the DPIC indicate serious concerns with the way capital punishment in the United States is administered. A 1998 report asserts, “In 96 percent of the states where there have been reviews of race and death penalty, there was a pattern of either race-of-victim or race-of-defendant discrimination, or both.”

The Santa Clara Law Review attests that those who murdered Caucasians were more than three times more likely to be sentenced to death than those who killed blacks, and more than four times more likely than those who killed Latinos.

Where is the equality in that?

Additionally, while many are under the misconception that the death penalty is less costly than incarcerating someone for life, the cost of a death penalty case from pretrial to execution is hundreds of thousands of dollars higher than cases of life imprisonment without parole.

In this ongoing debate, each of us has to consider and balance numerous dimensions of the issue. Complexities such as the financial and moral costs, the possibility of deterrence, the execution of innocents, improving DNA identification, more humane execution methods and racial biases in punishment implementation all weigh into our stance on the subject.

For me, spending the rest of my existence facing the constant threat of prison rape or injury without the possibility of parole seems a far worse punishment than the lethal injection. Throw in millions of saved taxpayer dollars and the choice becomes clear. Lock them up for good!

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