DPIC Releases New Report on Costs of the Death Penalty and Police Chiefs' Views

The Death Penalty Information Center has released its latest report, "Smart on Crime: Reconsidering the Death Penalty in a Time of Economic Crisis." The report combines an analysis of the costs of the death penalty with a newly released national poll of police chiefs who put capital punishment at the bottom of their law enforcement priorities.

Click here to read the report.
Click here to read DPIC's press release.
Click here for the Executive Summary of the report.

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Gallup Poll: Support for Death Penalty Remains Near 25-Year Low

The latest Gallup Poll on the death penalty shows 65% of Americans support the death penalty, significantly lower than the 80% support recorded in 1994 and near the lowest support of 64% in the past 25 years recorded last year.  Only 57% believe the death penalty is fairly applied, and 59% of Americans believe that an innocent person has been executed in the last five years.  Gallup reported that support for the death penalty is lower if Americans are offered an explicit alternative, such as life imprisonment with absolutely no possibility of parole.  The last time that Gallup offered such alternatives in 2006, only 47% preferred the death penalty, while 48% supported life imprisonment with no parole.

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New Poll Finds Declining Support for Death Penalty in California

Most Californians would support a sentence of life without parole for those convicted of murder rather than the death penalty according to a new opinion poll released on September 1. If the life sentence was combined with a requirement that the inmate work to make restitution to the family of the victim, only 26% of Californians would still opt for the death penalty.  The poll was conducted by Prof. Craig Haney of the University of California at Santa Cruz.  He conducted a nearly identical poll in 1989 and found stronger support for the death penalty at that time.  Only 66% of those polled support the death penalty in theory with no alternative sentences offered, compared to 79% in 1989.  "What's significant about the recent decline is that it occurred primarily among the strongest supporters of the death penalty," said Prof. Haney, a leading scholar on capital punishment and author of the book Death by Design.  The poll revealed much greater concern about the possibility of executing innocent people: 44% expressed concern this year, compared to only 23% in 1989. In addition, the number of respondents who believe the death penalty is a deterrent to murder dropped from 74% in 1989 to only 44% today.

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BOOKS: A Life for a Life--The American Debate Over the Death Penalty

In the book, A Life for a Life: The American Debate Over the Death Penalty, author Michael Dow Burkhead, a psychologist who has worked with criminal offenders for 25 years, explores the various trends in public opinion that influence crime prevention efforts, create public policy, and reform criminal law. He examines eight core issues about the use of executions: cruel and unusual punishment, discrimination, deterrence, due process, culpability, scripture, innocence, and justice.  The book provides a brief history of capital punishment in the United States from the earliest known execution in1608 to the present time. Additional topics include the regionalization of capital punishment sentences, the spiritual and scriptural debate over the death penalty, the role of DNA evidence in modern death sentences, and the ongoing effects recent court rulings.  The appendix includes recent state commission reports on the death penalty from Maryland, California, New Jersey, and Tennessee.

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PUBLIC OPINION: Support for Death Penalty Has Dropped in North Carolina

In a recent opinion poll conducted by Elon University in North Carolina, less than half of those polled believe that the the death penalty is the “most appropriate punishment for first degree murder.”  When the same question was asked in 2005, 61% chose the death penalty as the appropriate sentence.  In 2009, that number had dropped to 48%, the same percentage recorded in the University's 2007 poll.  "I would imagine the difference in opinion on our surveys is somewhat attributable to a realization among the public of the fallibility of the process or system, or at least an increased awareness about those cases in which people convicted of crimes and serving sentences were later exonerated," said pollster Hunter Bacot.  About 39% said life in prison without parole would be the better punishment in 2009, an increase from the 27% who supported that option in 2005.

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