I am a person who argues against the death penalty for ethical and economic reasons (I won’t get into those here), but I was quite surprised to learn that one argument that has been made against the death penalty (but not by me) seems to have been refuted; whether the death penalty serves as a deterrent to murder. In fact, a series of scientific studies published during the last five or six years have shown that between three and 18 lives could be saved by the execution of each convicted killer. Further, if executions were sped up, the deterrent effect would be strengthened.
“Science does really draw a conclusion. It did. There is no question about it,” said Naci Mocan, an economics professor at the University of Colorado at Denver. “The conclusion is there is a deterrent effect.”
“If it’s the case that executing murderers prevents the execution of innocents by murderers, then the moral evaluation is not simple,” observed University of Chicago’s Cass Sunstein. “Abolitionists or others, like me, who are skeptical about the death penalty haven’t given adequate consideration to the possibility that innocent life is saved by the death penalty.”
Nor have I.
Basically, these studies concluded;
- Each execution deters an average of 18 murders, according to a 2003 nationwide study by professors at Emory University. (Other studies have estimated the deterred murders per execution at three, five and 14).
- The Illinois moratorium on executions in 2000 led to 150 additional homicides over four years following, according to a 2006 study at the University of Houston.
- Speeding up executions would strengthen the deterrent effect. For every 2.75 years cut from time spent on death row, one murder would be prevented, according to a 2004 study by an Emory University professor.
Even though these studies’ findings surprised me, I was not the least surprised by the last finding (speeding up executions increases their deterrent effect). Of all the seeming findings, that one makes the most sense to me.