Tuesday, 13 February 2007

Book outlines realities of capital punishment

Book outlines realities of capital punishment

Posted February 13, 2007 at 11:46 am · By ASU News Filed under General

BOONE—It’s time for a time out when it comes to the use of the death penalty to deter crime, according to a criminal justice professor at Appalachian State University.

In his latest book, “Death Nation: The Experts Explain American Capital Punishment,” Matthew B. Robinson assesses the costs and benefits of capital punishment. The book will be released in March by Prentice Hall publishing company. Robinson also will present his findings at the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences national conference in March.

Robinson’s book includes information gleaned from a survey of about 50 death penalty scholars from across the country. They conclude that capital punishment doesn’t deter crime, and that the practice is prone to racial discrimination and mistaken convictions, among many other serious problems. A review of the latest empirical evidence supports the opinions of the scholars, according to Robinson.

“The experts I surveyed believe capital punishment is plagued by serious problems,” Robinson said. “These are people who are widely known, have published widely in the field, and are considered experts by their peers. They believe that innocent people are subjected to the capital punishment, that there is a significant racial bias in its application, a significant social class bias and to a lesser degree, a gender bias.”

Seventy-nine percent of the experts who responded to Robinson’s survey believe that capital punishment does not deter would-be murderers from committing murder; 84 percent believe capital punishment is plagued by racial bias; and 80 percent believe there is a social class bias in terms of who is sentenced to death. Eighty percent oppose the death penalty and 79 percent support a moratorium in executions pending further study of the practice.

“The experts also unanimously recommended something other than death as punishment for someone convicted of murder, such as life imprisonment without parole” Robinson said.

Between 1977 and 2005, there were more than 577,000 murders across the nation, which led to 6,934 death sentences. Of that number, only 1,004 individuals have been executed. In North Carolina during these years, the state averaged only 14.5 death sentences and 1.6 executions per year, in spite of suffering approximately 594 murders annually. “The rarity of the death penalty is precisely why it is so ineffective and inefficient,” according to Robinson.

“The main lesson of the book is that the death penalty fails to meet its goals,” he explained. “It’s not used frequently enough to deter would-be murderers, to incapacitate murders so that we have a reduction in murder by killing murderers and it’s not used widely enough to provide retribution to society and families of murder victims. It’s so rarely applied that it doesn’t serve any legitimate purpose.”

So why is capital punishment still used? Politics is the simple answer, Robinson said. Geographic location is another.

“Politicians have to be tough on crime,” Robinson said. “To come out against the death penalty is pretty much political suicide.”

Southern states tend to hold on to the death penalty, Robinson said, because of a long history of the practice.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, Illinois and New Jersey have formal moratoriums on executions, while New York’s highest court has ruled that the state’s existing death penalty is unconstitutional. Executions by lethal injection have been halted in 11 states, including North Carolina. Eleven states are considering legislation to repeal capital punishment or impose a moratorium on executions. Five states are considering legislation to expand the death penalty.

While written to be supplement college textbooks dealing with criminal justice, crime prevention, criminology and other related topics, Robinson says the book also should guide policy makers in better understanding the realities of the death penalty according to experts.
Robinson hopes legislators in states with moratoriums on the death penalty, will take time to look critically at capital punishment and whether it truly works.

“I’d really like them to look at the empirical evidence,” Robinson said. “If the evidence suggests the death penalty is a failed policy, then let’s do away with it and come up with some alternatives. According to my research, the death penalty is a failed policy.”

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