The research paper analyzes the effectiveness of death penalty in preventing violent crimes. Using research from several nations including the US and Canada, it aims to arrive at an understanding of the deterrent effect of executions. This effect has been found to be negligent, a fact supported by several studies. Therefore, capital punishment was found to be ineffective, which gives extra reasons to demand its abolition.
Deterrence of violent crimes is one of the chief arguments given in favor of death penalty. However, whether or not the presence of capital punishment in the penal code of a nation is capable of averting crimes remains debatable. However, a large body of research denies the link between executions and murder rate.
Capital punishment is defined as “execution as a punishment for a person convicted of committing a crime” (Peace Officers). Although this punishment is still present in the penal codes of many nations, it seems that it should be banned at this time in all civilized nations. Since capital punishment is mostly supported because it will avert crime, the revelation that it has a very little deterrent effect should alert policy-makers to the need to ban the death penalty.
The US, the nation that still has a death penalty on its penal code and the one that is supposed to have a relatively high crime rate, has been more concerned than others about its deterrent effects. This concern has found expression in some studies on the issue. Thus, Joanna M. Shepherd in her article “Murders of Passion, Execution Delays, and Deterrence of Crime” claims to have found the correlation between the number of crimes committed and capital punishment. In her paper, she claims that the relationship is 1 to 3 in that an execution prevents three murders, including murders by intimates and crimes of passion. Support for the dependence between the number of violent crimes committed and capital punishment is also stated by Paul R. Zimmerman in his paper “State Executions, Deterrence and the Incidence of Murder.” The paper states that “the estimates imply that a state execution deters approximately fourteen murders per year on average” (Zimmerman 2004, 163). The effect is primarily derived from the announcement of the execution.
The discrepancy in the results of these studies raises questions about their validity. Besides, while correlation is stated, there is no indication of an active causal link between the incidence of capital punishment and crime rates. To arrive at a full understanding of the relationship, one would have to examine all factors in the corresponding area that determine the crime rate.
Besides, there are some studies that dispute the deterrent effect. Thus, opponents of capital punishment point out that the murder rate was on the decline even as the US officials began to apply fewer cases of capital punishment. In 2004, according to the FBI Uniform Crime Report for 2004, it was 5.5 murders per 100,000 people, declining 3.3% (Death Penalty Information Center 2006). At the same time, it was the lowest in the Northeast. The area that hosts only 1% of all US executions has the rate of 4.2 murders per 100,000 people (Death Penalty Information Center 2006). On the contrary, the South, the area with the highest proportion of executions in the national total, 80%, was also noted for the highest murder rate, 6.6 murders per 100,000 people (Death Penalty Information Center 2006). Although differences in murder rates across the nation can also be attributable to regional differences in cultural or socioeconomic factors, they nevertheless demonstrate that imposition of capital punishment does not save the residents of a state from violent crime. If murder by the state does not prevent the murder of people by criminals, there can be very little ethical justification for its preservation.
To understand the relationship between the death penalty and murder rate, it is useful to look at the examples of nations other than the US. As many developed countries have dropped the practice and obliterated this kind of penalty from their penal codes, it makes sense to look at the data of what happened following this abolition. In Canada, for instance, the removal of capital punishment in 1976 from the nation’s legislation did not trigger a rise in the murder rate. On the contrary, the murder rate exhibited a slight decline in 1977, going from 2.8 per 100,000 to 2.7 (CCADP 2005). Evidence showed that “over the next 20 years the homicide rate fluctuated (between 2.2 and 2.8 per 100,000), but the general trend was downwards” (CCADP 2005). In fact, in 1998 murder rated hit bottom, is at its lowest since the 1960s – 1.9 per 100,000 (CCADP 2005). It is interesting to note that the abolition was also accompanied by a rise in conviction rate by Canadian juries that are now more willing to pass ‘guilty’ sentence when they realize that their decision will not be followed by the death of the offender.
Canadian experience has often been cited as an indicator that death penalty does not serve as an effective deterrent. Indeed, the consistent drop in the murder rate has been dramatic evidence. This situation demonstrates that in fact, the abolition of capital punishment can be more effective as a method of crime deterrence than its preservation on the books.
Research has underpinned the debate on the necessity of death penalty that for the most part fails to demonstrate convincingly the effect. The variations across the US demonstrate that death penalty does not save people from crimes. The Canadian experience also indicates that the abolition of capital punishment did not result in any serious rise in the rate – on the contrary, it triggered a sharp decline. This demonstrates that the exploration of the deterrent effect of capital punishment does not warrant its preservation. To execute people based on the hope that their deaths will prevent serious crime while consistent scholarly evidence has not supported the deterrent effect is immoral. Therefore, capital punishment should be abolished in favor of more ethical and effective methods of crime prevention.
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