The Deterrent Effect of Capital Punishment A Matter of Life and Death - Research Evidance

The Deterrent Effect of Capital Punishment A Matter of Life and Death - Research Evidance

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CRIME AND JUSTICE Bulletin NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research Capital punishment has been abolished in all Australian States since the mid 1980s. The United States of America is the only Western democracy that has retained the death penalty. The aim of this bulletin is to analyse and summarise the empirical evidence on the deterrent effect of capital punishment. It provides a survey of the results of 74 research projects published between 1952 and 2003. These projects employed a variety of methodologies, including economic modelling, and covered a range of geographical areas and time periods mainly in the United States. The majority of the studies show that the use of capital punishment did not deter the commission of homicide; this remains the case when studies that used relatively unsophisticated research designs were excluded. The bulletin concludes that three decades of deterrence research since Ehrlich’s (1975a) economic model has failed to deliver conclusive evidence on the deterrent effect of capital punishment. Contemporary Issues in Crime and Justice Number 84 October 2004 The deterrent effect of capital punishment: A review of the research evidence Janet Chan and Deborah Oxley, School of Social Science and Policy, University of New South Wales 1. INTRODUCTION Capital punishment – the state- sanctioned termination of a criminal offender’s life, usually for a serious violent offence – is a topic which raises many issues and emotions. Among Western democracies, the United States is the only country that has retained the death penalty. Capital punishment for any form of murder was abolished in the UK in 1965 and in Canada in 1976. In Australia, all States had abolished capital punishment by 1984 – the last executions took place in the mid 1960s (Potas and Walker 1987). There has not been any indication that a reversal of this policy is being contemplated. Nevertheless, with high-profile international cases of terrorism and war crime being brought to justice, capital punishment has once again come to the forefront of public consciousness. Historically, the use of different forms of punishment is driven by a range of social, cultural and political factors, often quite unrelated to the effectiveness of these sanctions for crime control (Beattie 1986; Garland 1990). As many have argued, the use of capital punishment is predominantly a political and moral issue: ‘the crucial question … concerns its legitimacy and propriety, rather than its efficacy’ (Zimring and Hawkins 1986, p. 167). In the United States at least, the decision to use or abolish capital punishment has never been based on a dispassionate assessment of the research evidence regarding its efficacy; rather, research is used by people with committed views to support their convictions or discredit opponents (ibid., p. 184). Indeed, analysts of policymaking have found that when opinions are sharply divided, research is often used to ‘supply evidence that will reassure supporters, convince the undecided, and weaken rivals’ positions’ (Weiss 1991, p. 41; see also Majone 1989). However, this
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This note was uploaded on 12/13/2007 for the course ECON 4040 taught by Professor Hay during the Fall '07 term at Cornell University (Engineering School).

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The Deterrent Effect of Capital Punishment A Matter of Life and Death - Research Evidance

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