For many years, I have assumed, like most Americans, that the death penalty was "not a deterrant" to future murders. That was what we have been told by those opposed to the death penalty for years, and the mainstream media has never, to my knowledge, challenged this assumption, nor even reported its foundational study.
Fairly recent research and analysis, however, brought to our attention by Dissecting Leftism (6-17-05), concludes that the death penalty does indeed deter murder, and by a significant margin.
The study, co-authored by economists Hashem Dezhbakhsh, Paul Rubin, and Joanna Mehlhop Shepherd at Emory University titled, "Does Capital Punishment Have a Deterrent Effect? New Evidence from Post-Moratorium Panel Data", studied murder rates and capital punishment between 1977 and 1996. Their conclusions are startling: The application of capital punishment deters an average of 18 murders for each convicted murderer executed.
Ian Murray, a senior research analyst with the Statistical Assessment Service, a non-profit, non-partisan think tank for economics, writes an excellent critique of the Emory study. He describes how this study used statistical models to scientifically arrive at their conclusions, writing that they "calculated the effect on the murder rate of a number of factors including, specifically, the likelihood of being arrested, the chance of being sentenced to death after arrest, and the chance of being executed after sentence. They were then able to work out how significant the chance of being executed is to the murder rate. They found that executions themselves are a very significant factor, certainly much more so than the simple removal of the murderer from the pool of potential killers. And their findings pass all the statistical tests that show that it's not just by chance that the math works that way."
There are other studies I found that show similar results, with summaries compiled at DPINFO. These include a 2003 study by the University of Colorado (Denver), University of Houston (2003), State University of New York (Buffalo) (2001), Clemson (2003), as well as other notable research. All show the statistically significant conclusion that the application of capital punishment clearly deters murder.
New analysis of the study released in March of 2005 by Cass Sunstein and Adian Vermeule of the University of Chicago suggests that the imposition of the death penalty is, given the results of the Emory study, a moral imperitive, writing that, "Capital punishment thus presents a life-life tradeoff, and a serious commitment to the sanctity of human life may well compel, rather than forbid, that form of punishment." (Hat tip GeoPolitical Review via Dissecting Leftism)
As is noted in several of the references above, the mainstream media has been fairly silent on this important issue. A Google search turned up nothing in the MSM on this subject, and if I were the suspicious sort, I might suspect a cover-up, since news of this study in wide circulation might well cause a major set-back to those opposed to capital punishment.
A final note on this subject: This author was once a strong opponent to capital punishment. My opposition was based on the now dis-proven notion that capital punishment was not a deterrant, and on a flawed translation of the 6th Commandment, as discussed in this space before. As noted then, "The 6th Commandment from the Bible’s Old Testament is most commonly translated as “Thou Shall Not Kill”, but many Biblical scholars say the correct translation should be, “Thou Shall Not Commit Murder”, based on the meaning of the Hebrew word, “Ratsach”.
As a result of this better translation, and the clear fact that capital punishment certainly deters the condemned from ever again committing murder, I changed my position years ago to a pro-death penalty stance. The even newer evidence cited above serves to strongly bolster this position: The application of capital punishment deters on average 18 future murders.
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