The Death Penalty As An Effective Way To Deter Crime

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The essence of death penalty to reduce crime is that people know that they will be executed in the future if they commit a crime and this threat is sufficient enough to cause a significant number of people to give up their thoughts to crime.(Death Penalty Information Center) In order to determine the relationship between crime rate and the presence of capital punishment, some statistical analysis would be really helpful for its capability of drawing clear a conclusion among complex data and side factors. However, it is not as easy as it sounds. Before discussing death penalty and crime rate, let’s first focus on a similar case about cigarette and lung cancer. Some physicians doubted this relationship during the 1920s and 30s since almost their serious lung cancer patients were heavy smokers.( Lamperti) However, it was hard to prove the hypothesis was right since an experiment cannot be carried out, experimenters cannot ask non-smoking people to smoke and then observe their reaction, just like you cannot ask some innocent people to commit crime and execute them. But why can’t people directly make the conclusion that smoking cause lung cancer because most lung cancer patients are heavy smoker? The thought like this will brings us in a logical fallacy called “after this…therefore because of this…”, which is an irrational decision-making strategy that will finally lead to wrong conclusion (for example, it is a fact that leaves turn red during autumn, but autumn doesn’t make leaves turn red). Heavy smokers indeed have more possibilities to get lung cancer, but it doesn’t directly prove that smoke leads to lung cancer. In other words, there might be a third factor causes cancer and it is also related to smoking. So, to address the problem, a more rigorous control group observation should be designed and more ‘third factors’ should be considered.

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The question about crime rate and the presence of death penalty is really similar to the case discussed above. Both scenarios cannot be easily experimented with. Instead, some more well-design control observations are needed to find a clear relation between two factors and to find out an unbiased conclusion.

During the 1970s, a U.S economist Isaac Ehrilch did a research about U.S’s murder and death execution statistics. The study was carried out carefully with the consideration of many social factors, including unemployment, personal & family income, past criminal history, and so on. Ehrilch wanted to establish a mathematical model of the relation of crime rate to all other variables, as well as the existence of death penalty. The research was really significant for this topic since it was the first time that multiple regressions were used, suggested that the conclusion should be less biased. (Ehrilch) As for the result, the curve showed a slight negative correlation. However, as he changed the time period for the model, despite some general aspects of each curve stayed the same, the slight negative relationship totally disappeared. So Ehrilch concluded that there was no obvious effect of deterrence, considered all those factors.

On the other hand, focused on considering as more ‘third factors’ as possible, as well as its feasibility, the Abdurrahman Boroumand Center in 2018, made a research of 11 countries’ about their crime rate after the abolition of death penalty.( Death Penalty Information Center) More specifically, they record the change of murder rate in each country, for it is defiantly a crime lead to death penalty in the past. In order to eliminate bias, all of the 11 countries meet the following requirements. #1the countries had officially abrogated death penalty for more than 10 years. #2there was at least 1 death execution carried out before the abolition. #3the country’s murder rate data is available to the WTO, guaranteeing its authenticity and accessibility. The gathered data reveals astonishing results that among 11 countries, 10 of them had experienced a decline in murder rate after the abrogation of death penalty.(Death Penalty Information Center) Six of those countries experience a murder rate decline for all ten years, and the rest 4 although experience some fluctuation in murder rate in the first few years, they finally reached an overall decline trend. However, the crime rate only declined by 6 murder per1 million population (Death Penalty Information Center), which was not significant enough to conclude that the abolition death penalty leads to the decline of murder rate. In summary, in this scenario, the presence of death penalty has almost no measurable effect on general crime rate.

Also, on philosophical and humanistic aspects, there are enough reasons to conclude that death penalty serves no deterrence effect on crime. For instance, death is not deterrent especially for criminals of passion, who commit the crime because of a sudden strong impose like sudden anger or depress. (By the way, most murder cases are considered as crime of passion) At that moment, they don’t consider about the consequence, they just have a strong thought to fulfill what they plan to do. Although they might feel regret after they calm down, crime had already been committed, so death penalty plays no role in preventing them from doing so. Moreover, sometimes the death penalty serves as a stimulation for people to commit even worse crimes. Because sometimes if people are aware that they will be executed based on their fault, there is nothing more can deter them, which makes them more unpredictable and violent. On the other hand, accumulated punishment would be more effective in this case since it can deter people’s thoughts to commit further crimes. Death penalty is like an end, a penalty in a moment, but accumulated penalty punishes people by the level of severity of crime. Compare to the death penalty in a moment, an enteral punishment would be more deterrent.  

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