Governor Jay Inslee of Washington state has enacted a moratorium on capital punishment. Anti-capital punishment activists are relishing the success and death row inmates are resting a little easier knowing they’ll never meet the fate they imperiled upon their victims. What purpose does a political move like this serve? Anti-capital punishment activists claim the punishment is barbaric and is nothing more than state sanctioned murder, government perpetuated revenge. A rather pollyannic vision, in my opinion. They often assert that executions don’t deter crime, but this isn’t true either.
I for one don’t believe punishments for crimes need to be wholly aimed toward reform. Not every prison sentence needs to teach a lesson. Sometimes a crime is so heinous that it warrants mere punishment. Especially since the majority (pretty much all) of criminals know what they’ve done is wrong and unacceptable. There’s little to learn from a stint in prison.
However, if for nothing else, execution for capital crimes does in fact have a deterrent effect on murder, studies show.
(FoxNews) — “Science does really draw a conclusion. It did. There is no question about it,” said Naci Mocan, an economics professor at the University of Colorado at Denver. “The conclusion is there is a deterrent effect.”
A 2003 study he co-authored, and a 2006 study that re-examined the data, found that each execution results in five fewer homicides, and commuting a death sentence means five more homicides. “The results are robust, they don’t really go away,” he said. “I oppose the death penalty. But my results show that the death penalty (deters) — what am I going to do, hide them?”
Statistical studies like his are among a dozen papers since 2001 that capital punishment has deterrent effects. They all explore the same basic theory — if the cost of something (be it the purchase of an apple or the act of killing someone) becomes too high, people will change their behavior (forego apples or shy from murder).
Among the conclusions:
• Each execution deters an average of 18 murders, according to a 2003 nationwide study by professors at Emory University. (Other studies have estimated the deterred murders per execution at three, five and 14).
• The Illinois moratorium on executions in 2000 led to 150 additional homicides over four years following, according to a 2006 study by professors at the University of Houston.
• Speeding up executions would strengthen the deterrent effect. For every 2.75 years cut from time spent on death row, one murder would be prevented, according to a 2004 study by an Emory University professor.
I understand the point of view of those who oppose the death penalty. But I also believe capital punishment to be an appropriate response to certain crimes. What often gets in the way is a nagging what if. What if the jury got it wrong? What if they really didn’t do the crime? This rationale exonerates too much though. Couldn’t we use this same what if reasoning for any crime, including fines and prison? Repeal life sentences because what if the man serving life is actually innocent? Repeal 20 year sentences because, what if? Is it just that a man lose two decades of his life for a crime he didn’t commit?
It’s safe to say that there are exponentially more people wrongly fined for motor vehicle violations than who are executed wrongly. This is a ridiculous comparison, I know. But if what’s important is the principle that an innocent person shouldn’t pay for a crime they didn’t commit, we therefore should equally be advocating for the repeal of all criminal punishment… because, what if.
Capital punishment does have a deterrent effect on murder. But even if it didn’t, the crimes committed by some people are just so perverse against their human brothers and sisters that they simply need to pay with their lives. I believe the governor of Washington is motivated by the best of intentions. But society needs justice, and so do the victims.