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Death is a Deterrent!

First things first.

Kudos to the Justice Verma headed three member committee, and the supporting team for their 600 page report on how to make laws against sexual violence a bigger deterrent. 

But I have to disagree with Justice Verma when he says there's research evidence to show death penalty doesn't act as deterrentMaybe he should read former public defender Jay Gaskill on the issue of death penalty and deterrence before he jumps to conclusions. 

Here's an excerpt from his essay, 'Death, Deterrence and Reform'.

The deterrence effect of the death penalty for deliberate killings has been widely studied with allegedly “inconclusive” results. A number of experts and organizations still claim that the death penalty doesn't work. But no respected study actually rules out death penalty deterrence, and some experts have found strong indications of a deterrence effect.

On this topic, many of my good hearted humanitarian friends are deeply out of touch with the common wisdom. I have listened for three decades to all the arguments that the death penalty is not a deterrent. Death penalty opponents usually talk about crimes of passion, pointing out that the jealous husband was too filled with rage to give a thought to penalty, or on the homicidal maniac who is on a suicidal run. This is all beside the point. As a realist, I have come to understand that that death penalty can deter certain murders, especially for the criminals who have gotten used to prison life. Indeed, several categories of criminals are capable of being deterred by little else. Think of those carjackings where the victim is in the trunk. Some are shot, others not. Many criminals think of the consequences, especially when they are as simple and vivid as the prospect of eventual execution. In general, the death penalty deters at least some murders within the entire class of killings where there is a moment to reflect before killing. This includes most drug dealer turf shootings, gang warfare, witness killings, robbery murders, and so on.

The most persuasive recent studies have been conducted by experts with formal training in economics. The field of economics is often called the “dismal science” because of its tendency to generate honest assessments, in spite of political hopes and expectations. Many death penalty opponents resist the basic assumption of economic science that, over time, incentives and disincentives will change behavior. Regrettably, an anti-death penalty bias has introduced an element of intellectual dishonesty into the deterrence debate. Evidence that the death penalty “disincentive” produces genuine results is ignored, marginalized, or denied because executions are thought to be immoral under all circumstances. “Don’t confuse me with the facts” is the motto of the true believers.

When the overall data are looked at square on, the conclusion is inescapable: The death penalty deters some murders. Having been responsible for saving clients lives, I am not at all enthusiastic about executions, but the murders of innocent people are far more immoral than the judicially ordered execution of culpable murderers. Killings affect the community at large, and the problem calls all of us to get outside our biases and roles.

I find the evidence in favor of the death penalty’s deterrent effect on homicidal behavior to be highly persuasive, leaving aside the more difficult issue of measurement of the power of the effect on a given, demographically mixed population. The so called side-by-side studies that purport not to reveal any deterrent effect (for example comparing death penalty enforcing state A with non-death penalty state B over the same time frame) fail to normalize for demographic differences. There are always higher “crime prone” sub-populations in any geographic area. At any given moment, virtually all states differ in political and social attitudes, police funding and activities, and in the detailed operation of their respective criminal justice processes.

The temporary imposition of a well publicized death penalty moratorium in a given jurisdiction provides a better quasi-controlled experiment, particularly when demographic factors remain relatively stable over the sample period. And, in these samples, the larger the population that is included, the less that pockets of demographic variations will skew the outcome. That said, there can be demographic and cultural changes with time.

With those qualifications, analysis of the available data has persuaded me that the death penalty for murder may have saved a significant number of lives over the last decade in those jurisdictions where it was used. If my analysis is correct, it follows that any death penalty moratorium, however well intentioned, will come at a high social cost.


Unknown said…
death penalty is good solution for some crime but we need to awake and system should be change. i did nothing but whenever i face police officers i feel discomfort. it gap should be removed so that any one can take help of them.

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