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There's No Evidence The Death Penalty Deters Crime

1748 words - 7 pages

Capital punishment is very popular with the majority of Americans. Maybe, in part, because it feeds the inborn human need to feel revenge. The death penalty is also very popular politically and provides a way for politicians to show that they are fighting crime. Thirty-eight states have death penalty statutes and several other states are considering legislation to enact it. Yet, is capital punishment really effective and does it deter crime? I believe that it does not.

Polls show that most Americans support the death penalty and see it as a deterrent to crime. In a 1991 Gallup poll, 76 percent of the sample surveyed favored the death penalty. However. the question was then posed that if new evidence showed that the death penalty didn't reduce crime would they still favor it. In that context, only 52 percent supported it. (Akers and Radelet 3). "These findings indicate, that the assumption of a deterrent effect is a major factor in public and political endorsement of the death penalty." (Ibid.)

In contrast, criminologists and police officers do not view the death penalty as a deterrent to crime. In a poll of 386 police chiefs and county sheriffs, six choices were presented as ways to reduce crime. The officers chose the death penalty as the last way to reduce crime. (Ibid. 3) "...There is a wide consensus among America's top criminologists that scholarly research has demonstrated that the death penalty does, and can do little to reduce the rates of criminal violence." (Ibid. 9)

The death penalty is good for political candidates because the public favors it. When George Pataki became governor of New York, he re-enacted the death penalty. This is what he had to say about it: "These new laws are working. Since I took office in 1995. violent crime has dropped 23 percent, assaults are down 22 percent, and murders have dropped by nearly one-third." (Pataki 2) Yet, who can say that this is really the case. There are too many extraneous variables that could have played into this drop. It could be a fluke or just the natural rise and fall of crime.

The death penalty produces a great drain on the monetary reserves of this country. "A 1982 New York study estimated the death penalty cost conservatively three times that of life imprisonment." (Freedman 2) Often there are calls to reduce the number of appeals and thus cut the costs incurred after the trial. Yet, death penalty trials cost far more than normal trials and this is where much of the extra cost is incurred. Death penalty trials have two phases, and there are special motions and more questions asked of prospective jurors. There is more prosecution investigation into a death penalty case. Yet, the outcome of most of these trials is a sentence other than death. In addition, 50 percent of the trials that do result in death verdicts have the conviction turned into a lesser sentence on appeal. (Ibid. 2) "In short, even if all post-conviction proceedings following the first appeal were...

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