STUDIES: Majority of Leading Criminologists Find Death Penalty Does Not Deter Murder

Eighty-eight percent of the country’s top criminologists do not believe the death penalty acts as a deterrent to homicide, according to a new study published on June 16 in the Northwestern University School of Law’s Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology.  The study was authored by Professor Michael Radelet, Chair of the Department of Sociology at the University of Colorado-Boulder, and graduate student Traci Lacock.  Their article, “Do Executions Lower Homicide Rates? The Views of Leading Criminologists,” is based on a survey of the pre-eminent criminologists in the country.  The research did not ask about the respondents' personal views on the death penalty, but only their views of deterrence based on empirical evidence.  Eighty-seven percent of the expert criminologists believed that abolition of the death penalty would not have any significant effect on murder rates.  The authors concluded, “Our survey indicates that the vast majority of the world’s top criminologists believe that the empirical research has revealed the deterrence hypothesis for a myth … [T]he consensus among criminologists is that the death penalty does not add any significant deterrent effect above that of long-term imprisonment.” Read the study here and the DPIC's press release here

NEW VOICES: Montana Prosecutor Says Death Penalty Doesn't Keep Correctional Officers Safe

John Connor, who served as chief special prosecutor in Montana for 21 years and who prosecuted five prison homicide cases, is now calling for the repeal of Montana’s death penalty.  Connor originally believed that the death penalty was needed to keep correctional officers safe from inmates serving life in prison without parole.  But through his experience he found, “The reality is that the death penalty is not, and never has been, a deterrent. Prison safety depends on proper staffing, equipment, resources and training. Certainly the money spent on trying to put someone to death for over 20 years could find better use in addressing those practical needs of our correctional system.”

Connor praised the work of state correctional officers and said, "I would never advocate for repealing the penalty if I thought it placed our correctional personnel at risk. During the years I prosecuted cases of violence in the prison, I learned to greatly admire and respect the dedicated corrections professionals that care for and manage the inmate population . . . But the best way to protect our correctional professionals is to recognize the need for a well-trained staff, for the commitment of adequate resources to operate the institutions safely, and for innovative management incentives that serve to reduce the opportunity for prison violence."

Number of Police Officers Killed by Gunfire is Lowest in 50 Years

The number of police officers killed by gunfire in 2008 dropped by 40% from 2007, down to its lowest level in more than 50 years, according to a report by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.  The report attributed the decline to a new emphasis on officer safety training and equipment.   In addition to increased training, more officers are wearing body armor and using stun guns to protect themselves. The overall number of officers killed in the line of duty also declined in 2008.

STUDIES: Higher Murder Rates Related to Gun Laws

States with softer gun laws have higher rates of handgun killings, fatal shootings of police officers, and sales of weapons that were used in crimes in other states, according to a study due out in January 2009. The study’s 38-page report, underwritten by a group of over 300 mayors and obtained by the Washington Post, focused on tracking guns used in crimes back to the retailers that first sold them.

Based on an analysis of annual crime-gun data compiled by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the study found:


Gap Between the Murder Rate of Death Penalty States and Non-Death Penalty States Remains Large

States with the death penalty have consistently had higher murder rates than states without the death penalty.  If the death penalty was acting as a deterrent to murder, one might expect that the gap between these two groups would lessen over a long period of time as states using the death penalty obtained an advantage in reducing murders.  However, the gap has grown larger over the past 18 years. In 2007, states with the death penalty had a 42% higher murder rate than states without the death penalty.  In 1990, the gap was only 4%.

NEW VOICES: Former San Quentin Warden Says Death Penalty "Detracts crucial resources from programs that could truly make our communities safe"

The former warden of San Quentin prison in California, Jeanne Woodford, regrets having taken part in executions and has called for replacing the death penalty with life without the possibility of parole. In an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, Woodford notes that after each execution, "someone on the staff would ask, 'Is the world safer because of what we did tonight?' We knew the answer: No." The full article can be found below.



Murder Rate Declines in Every Region Except the South, Where Executions Are Most Prevalent

According to the F.B.I.'s latest crime report released on September 15, the South is the only region in the country that experienced a rise in its murder rate in 2007. The FBI reported that the murder rate in the country declined to 5.6 murders per 100,000 people in 2007 from 5.7 in 2006, and the rate declined in the Northeast, the Midwest, and the West. In the South, however, the murder rate increased from 6.8 in 2006 to 7.0 in 2007, the highest rate among the four regions. The South consistently has had the highest murder rate among the four regions.

Experts from Both Sides Say Data Does Not Support a Deterrent Effect from the Death Penalty

Legal scholar Cass Sunstein and researcher Justin Wolfers recently joined in an op-ed piece in the Washington Post responding to the U.S. Supreme Court’s citation of their work in Baze v. Rees, the decision that approved lethal injection and opened the way to recent executions. Justice Stevens had cited Wolfer’s research as evidence of the lack of deterrence of the death penalty while Justice Scalia cited Sunstein’s writings indicating a “a significant body of recent evidence that capital punishment may well have a deterrent effect, possibly a quite powerful one.” Both Sunstein and Wolfers say the Justices “misread the evidence” to “support their competing conclusions on the legal issue.” They explained the nuances of the evidence on deterrence and the death penalty and how no study on the topic can support a strong conclusion. “The best we can say is that homicide rates are not closely associated with capital punishment.” They added, “In short, the best reading of the accumulated data is that they do not establish a deterrent effect of the death penalty.”