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The Ineffectiveness Of Death Penalty

Over time death penalty has invoked numerous deliberations on ethical, philosophical and religious grounds. However, to comprehend effectiveness of death penalty in policy debates, a pragmatic argument of deterring the criminal homicide needs to be given more importance in comparison to the above mentioned dilemmas. To begin with, the fact should be acknowledged that measuring effectiveness is a rather relative process and thus effectiveness of execution should be compared with long-term imprisonment.

In academic literature the effectiveness of death penalty over long-term imprisonment is debated since the publication of Sutherland. The main problem encountered in conducting an empirical study to determine the effectiveness of execution is quite similar to other ‘rare event’ cases like smoking/lung cancer problem. In both these cases the concerned events are quite rare and undergo random fluctuations. The initial attempts to overcome these barriers in the following mentioned studies showed that execution is not really effective. Peterson & Bailey tried to see whether states with higher executions have lower murder rates, however, the data revealed the opposite. Sellin attempted to compare murder rates from neighboring states with and without execution. Here also, the murder rates are found mostly same in states with and without execution. The major breakthrough in the empirical approaches to measure effectiveness of death penalty came with the application of econometric methods to build regression models by economist Issac Ehrlich. Ehrlich established a statistically significant negative relationship between murder rates and execution by analyzing 1933-1969 US murder and execution statistics. This negative relationship is claimed to be resulting in 7-8 fewer murders per execution. However, no valid inferences can be drawn from Ehrlich’s work due to some significant methodological inconsistency.

In recent times, similar effectiveness of execution is shown as every execution deterring 5-6, 18, 14 and 74 murders respectively. Like earlier, significant methodological discrepancies have been found in all of the studies and thus these results can’t be given major importance.

In this context, Radelet & Akers and Radelet & Lacock secondary approaches to inquire the leading criminologists on this issue publicized that death penalty is not a better deterrent of murders than long-term imprisonment. Even Gallup poll showed a decreasing faith on effectiveness of execution as the percent of people feel death penalties are effective fell from 62 in 1985 to 34 in 2006.1 Along with these, considering the American Society of Criminology’s 1989 resolution it can be aptly concluded that death penalty is completely ineffective over long-term imprisonment in terms deterring murders.


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