The Role of the Death Penalty on Preventing Future Crime

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Does the death penalty prevent future crime? We are scared. Surveys find that the fear of crime is high and perhaps rising. So the question of prevention is important. General deterrence is the idea that punishing an offender "deters" others from committing similar crimes. But does the threat of the death penalty actually discourage others from killing and thus make us safer? If so, does it do so significantly better than other forms of punishment? Dozens of studies have examined the relationship between murder and the death penalty in Canada, the United States and elsewhere. They have compared murder rates in areas with the death penalty to those in areas without the death penalty. They examined what happened to murder rates when the death penalty was added or removed in various areas and countries. None of these studies, however, has been able to establish that the death penalty results in lower murder rates or that the abolition of the death penalty increases murder rates. If the death penalty deters, the deterrent effect is so small that even the most sophisticated attempts have been unable to measure it. The vast preponderance of evidence suggests that the death penalty is no more effective than imprisonment in deterring others from committing violent crime. Since Canada abolished the death penalty in 1976, substituting mandatory minimum prison sentences, the homicide rate has actually fallen by 27%. This pattern also has been observed in France and elsewhere. Actually, the death penalty may have an effect that is the opposite of what is intended. After John Spenkelink was executed in Florida homicides seemed to rise, and observers have noted the same phenomenon in other circumstances. Some r... ... middle of paper ... Death Penalty Information Center 1320 18th St. NW, 5th Floor, Washington, DC 20036 phone: 202-293-6970 e-mail: Internet: Death Row Support Project PO Box 600, Liberty Mills, IN 46946 phone: 219-982-7480 e-mail: Equal Justice USA Quixote Center, PO Box 5206, Hyattsville, MD 20782 phone: 301-699-0042 e-mail: Internet: Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation PO Box 208, Atlantic, VA 23303 phone: 757-824-0948 e-mail: NAACP Legal Defense Fund 4805 Mt. Hope Dr., Baltimore, MD 21215 phone: 800-622-2755 National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty 1436 U St. NW, Suite 104, Washington DC 20009 phone: 202-387-3890 e-mail: or Internet:

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