MassTestimonyFagan - PUBLIC POLICY CHOICES ON DETERRENCE...

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PUBLIC POLICY CHOICES ON DETERRENCE AND THE DEATH PENALTY: A CRITICAL REVIEW OF NEW EVIDENCE Testimony before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary of the Massachusetts Legislature on House Bill 3834, “An Act Reinstating Capital Punishment in the Commonwealth” Jeffrey Fagan Columbia Law School July 14, 2005 Thank you for inviting me to address the Joint Committee on this most urgent of topics. This is an important moment historically in the debate on capital punishment, both in the states and the nation. This moment presents opportunity for the citizens of Massachusetts to carefully consider this most serious exercise of the state’s authority and power. Qualifications I am professor of law and public health at Columbia University. My research has examined the administration of the system of capital punishment in the U.S., and also changes in homicide rates in American cities over the past three decades. I have a PhD from SUNY Buffalo, where I was trained in econometrics, statistics, and engineering. I am a Fellow of the American Society of Criminology, and a member of the Committee on Law and Justice of the National Research Council. Among other courses, I teach Law and Social Science to Columbia’s law students. My research and writing has been supported by federal research agencies and private foundations. I frequently publish in peer-reviewed journals, and I serve on the editorial boards of several peer-reviewed journals. I have served on numerous government advisory committees and scientific
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Testimony of Jeffrey Fagan, Ph.D. July 14, 2005 Page 2 review boards. I have received research grants and fellowships from numerous government agencies and private foundations. Summary Recent studies claiming that executions reduce murders have fueled the revival of deterrence as a rationale to expand the use of capital punishment. Such strong claims are not unusual in either the social or natural sciences, but like nearly all claims of strong causal effects from any social or legal intervention, the claims of a “new deterrence” fall apart under close scrutiny. These new studies are fraught with technical and conceptual errors: inappropriate methods of statistical analysis, failures to consider all the relevant factors that drive murder rates, missing data on key variables in key states, the tyranny of a few outlier states and years, weak to non-existent tests of concurrent effects of incarceration, statistical confounding of murder rates with death sentences, failure to consider the general performance of the criminal justice system, and the absence of any direct test of deterrence. These studies fail to reach the demanding standards of social science to make such strong claims, standards such as replication, responding to counterfactual claims, and basic comparisons with other causal scenarios. Some simple examples and contrasts, including a careful analysis of the experience in Massachusetts compared to other states, lead to a rejection of the idea that either death sentences or
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MassTestimonyFagan - PUBLIC POLICY CHOICES ON DETERRENCE...

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