Sunday, 8 July 2007

Death penalty deters? Evidence says no

Recently, The Gazette published an AP article by Robert Tanner whose headline claimed "Death penalty deters crime." He notes that "what gets little notice ... is a series of academic studies over the last half-dozen years that claim ... the death penalty acts as a deterrent to murder."

Yet the studies he cites are actually several years old. Two respected scholars, John D. Donohue of Yale Law School and Justin Wolfers of the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business published an April 2006 article stating that recent studies claiming to show that the death penalty deters murders are "simply not credible." They state that using the same data and proper methodology could lead to the opposite conclusion.

As one of the most studied phenomena in the social sciences, the vast preponderance of empirical research suggests that the death penalty does not deter crime.

Here are some undisputable, hard facts: 84 percent of expert criminologists polled from around the country concluded that the death penalty did not act as a deterrent to murder. Generally, states without the death penalty have consistently lower murder rates than states with the death penalty; and contiguous state comparisons reveal that states without the death penalty usually have a lower murder rate than neighboring states with the death penalty.

In fact, Montana's only neighbor without the death penalty - North Dakota - routinely benefits from lower homicide rates per capita than Montana (or any of its other neighbors).

For more information, please see Ginger Aldrich Deputy Public Policy Director American Civil Liberties Union of Montana Helena

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