Is the Death Penalty effective?

Many people here in the US say no, and I have to admit, I tend to agree with them. Living in Texas, I have a good example of how no matter how many people you execute, it just doesn’t seem to cut down on the number of murders or violent crimes you have. It seems a fairly useless deterant. But what about its effectiveness in other countries, where the use of the death penealty is much more frequent and often for crimes a lot less violent than what people are convicted of here. Now, the only country I’ve been to out of the States is England, and that was a long time ago, so I admit, most of my knowledge of what goes on in other countries comes from articles and stories that may not be all that credible. But there are countries where public executions are still held, death sentences are carried out with expediency, not fourteen years later like many here in the US, and in these particular countries, the crime and murder rate are excedingly lower than the US (China, for example, has a much lower crime rate than the US despite its size, and once convicted, one does not sit around waiting in a cell for long).

So, I guess the question more is, is the death sentence completely ineffective, or is it just that we here in the US are using it all wrong?

I don’t believe the death penalty is intended to be a deterrent. It’s main purposes are punishment and ensuring the safety of others.

The reason other cultures have lower crime rates than ours likely has little to do with the types of deterrents they apply.

Also, when putting a human to death, I think it’s better to take our time. If our system worked well enough to ensure that no innocents’ lives would be ended, that would be one thing. But in Illinois, for instance, they had 12 people in one year undoubtedly exonerated from their death row crimes. Not a very good accuracy rate.

Putting people to death more quickly would only lead to more mistakes–not a bigger deterrent.

Actually, I think there are not many such countries. IIRC, the US is up there with China, Iran and (possibly) South Africa in having a much higher rate of executions than almost any other county. Probabaly an easier comparison to make is to look at countries with a similar state of economic and social development to the US - say, perhaps, Canada and Western European countries. If, as I suspect, it is found that these countries have (a) lower execution rates, and (b) lower murder rates than the US, you can then have hours of fund arguing (depending on your political standpoint) either (i) that the US is a very violent society and would have an even higher murder rate if it were not for the liberal use of the death penalty, or (ii) that the US is a very violent society and this explains both the high murder rate and the high execution rate, but the murder rate is not directly affected by the execution rate, or (iii) something else.

My impression is that the death penalty has less impact on the murder rate than many other factors. Nevertheless, the statement above goes too far.

A few years ago, the death penalty in every state was wiped out by SCOTUS; the murder rate in Texas (and IIRC everyrwhere else) rose sharply. After a few years, Texas and about half the states re-instituted a Constitutional death penalty; murder rates then dropped sharply.

However, cause-and-effect is far from clear. Murder rates also dropped in states without a death penalty. One can argue that the drop may have been greater in states with a DP, but it’s hard to tease out the DP impact from the statistics, given all the other changes that were simultaneously taking place.

in my mind, the death penalty is ABSOLUTLY effective. the criminals who are put to death NEVER COMMIT ANOTHER CRIME!

does it prevent any others from commiting crime? don’t know, and never will. don’t really care, either. i suspect that it does. it may have kept one 7-11 clerk from getting shot instead of locked in the can during the commission of a robbery.

side note: i was reading the criminal historys of the texas executed from a link found on one of these threads (had to do with last meals these bozos requested. i would link, but i don’t know how and don’t remember the site. if anyone who’s head is not up thier ass like me can provide a link, that would be just swell!) anyway… the majority of these scumbags had all been in prison before, let out and then killed somebody shortly after getting out. the thing that i found so shocking was the brutality and senselessness of the crimes. people were killed for petty robberys, sexual assalt and in some cases, no apparant reason at all. while reading these cases, i was pretty sure that if any of these scumbags ever got out of jail again, they would not hesitate to kill again. well, the good old texas death penalty pretty much put an end to that.

if you ask me, yes, it is effective.

Is the death penalty effective …

In deterring crime in the first instance? No. In fact, a New York Times survey found that those states with a death penalty, the homicide rate was higher than those states without a death penalty. In fact, there are several studies indicating increases in death penalty states vs. non-death penalty states.


In 2000, 88 per cent of all known executions took place in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the USA.

Executions are known to have been carried out in the following countries in 2000:

Afghanistan, Bahamas, Belarus, Burundi, China, Congo (Democratic Republic), Cuba, Egypt, Guatemala, Iran, Iraq, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Pakistan, Philippines, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Somalia, Taiwan, Thailand, United States Of America, Uzbekistan, Viet Nam, Yemen

Source: Amesty International

Gee, not a single Euopean country and/or “Western” country in the lot, save for Japan and the USA. However, quite a few countries the USA has issues with respect to human rights. No wonder many countries call us hypocrites when it comes to human rights.

Am I against the death penalty? To be frank, I’m not sure. From a purely economic point of view, no, because it costs more money to execute someone in the USA than it does to keep them in the slammer forever. In that respect, let them rot. However, it also means those executed will never harm anyone again.

But America is a very violent, arrogant and immature society. People sue others at the drop of a hat, or the drop of a coffee cup. Americans invented road rage, air rage, school rage, cell phone rage, fill-in-the-blank rage, etc. In fact, look at some of the responses to posts on this board. The pent up anger, rage and pure hate in an online debate forum is a clear indicator for me than quite a few people lack the ability to solve/debate issues in a non-violent and mature manner.

The death penalty is only a symptom of American society’s inability to grow up.

“We have met the enemy and he is us.” – Pogo

I have no problem with a fairly applied death penalty. I see no indication that our court system is exceedingly fair. It is OK, not to say that, but it doesn’t seem powerful enough to remove doubt from my mind about its judgements.

The court system is set up, however, to allow a method of recourse should it be shown that the court was in error. A dead man has no recourse with which to struggle. This in itself is probably an indication that we should remove it.

Also, I personally would accept a pragmatic justification for punishment up to (but not including) torture and death; then I want some well-founded reasons. YMMV.

But, I also think that comparing the USA to China simply because they both execute people is a little strange. I highly doubt that any two nations on earth are so similar that we may simply take any particular aspect of them and compare it.

I’m not sure that the death penalty is a deterrant, but I am absolutely certain that the referenced NY Times study was utterly wrong-headed. The study was done by 3 reporters, who are not trained statistiscians. But, one doesn’t need much training to understand their error. They confused association with proving a causal relation.

They correctly observed that states with the death penalty tended to have higher murder rates. Turn that around: States with high murder rates tend to have enacted a death penalty. Well, naturally.

In fact, these high murder-rate states had higher murder rates even back when all states had the death penalty. The difference is murder rate was due to factors other than the death penalty.

I made this argument in another thread; it didn’t go over too well (actually my argument was more let’s erase our human rights abuses, plus acknowledge and make amends for our past, before we tell others how to run their countries).

I agree and use the same argument myself often. However, a ‘lifer’ is only a threat to another inmate, and potentially a very dangerous one (nothing to lose). Not every criminal deserves to be put at that kind of risk.

I think that, at the end of the day, if the decision were mine, I’d opt for the death penalty (maybe even ‘Texas’ style in it’s efficiency). I don’t think I’d be very comfortable with the decision and definitely would consider it the lesser of two evils.

I really don’t think it is a deterent, but if it saves even a few lives, I wonder whether or not it has paid for itself. I don’t know the answer there.

A slight hijack, for which I apologise…

The other night on the news, there was an interview with a man whose wife and baby daughter were murdered by a minor a few years ago. The sentence? Life in prison (which means parole after a certain amount of time). The criminal has shown no remorse over the crime. Obviously, the husband wants the death penalty.

He said something very interesting. He said that by NOT enforcing the DP, the government is saying to its citizens “It doesn’t matter what you do, how heinous your crime is, we will insure your life.” Essentially, the government is offering to protect criminals by putting them in jail (a secure environment, at least here in Japan). Yet the government is not protecting the lives of its average citizens.

Does this strike anyone else as very wrong?


Effective? I haven’t heard of many botched executions lately, so I suppose it is. As for a statistical correlation between murder rates and death penalty jurisdictions, there is a negative correlation, meaning if there is a cause effect relationship, it causes more murders.

As for it being right or wrong, I come down on the side of wrong. There are just too many cases where the sentence of death is handed down and later we find it is a mistake. How many is it a mistake where we never find out? A number of people proclaiming innocence have been put to death without reliable evidence. On the other hand (am I up to four hands yet?), the guy Mumia is in that category, and I find him really annoying.

But as a Christian, I gotta remember that the big J.C. was given the death penalty, and he was innocent. :rolleyes:

El Elvis
I think you put your finger on what the US does wrong. I’m American but weighing in from Saudi, one of those bad places where they execute people on a regular basis. Riyadh has a substantial population but the rate of violent crime is startlingly low. As foreign as I look, I can walk wherever I want at any time I desire without having to worry about being robbed, murdered, or attacked in some other way. I think there are two major differences with the way executions are done here and the way they are carried out in the US.

a) Executions are public, there must be witnesses and anyone who thinks the DP is not a deterrant should see a beheading.

b) The executions are carried out in a matter of months, not years. It happens soon enough that people remember the crime and get to see what happened to the criminal.

I know it’s fashionable to bash the Saudis these days and they certainly have their lumps coming for some of their activities. They DO avoid violent crime though. Some of this is cultural, the Saudis aren’t a very violent group on a personal basis. They do own weapons though, so that is common with the US. As an OBTW, the DP is applied for murder, rape, and drug-dealing.

Just my two cents. YMMV.


Is the Death Penalty effective?

Effective for what? the Death Penalty successfully cures the condition called Life. It provides the public with revenge fantasies and horripilation in equal measure. It makes murderers of the servants of justice, and sullies even the leprous reputations of lawyers. It attracts international criticism and condemnation. It is effective at all these things and many more.

There is no reliable evidence I am aware of that the Death Penalty is any kind of deterrent to crime, so the argument is that it is not effective in that department either.

And it certainly brings no reform to criminals. The Death Penalty is more a public service than part of the justice system. It’s not about removing one criminal from circulation forever, it’s about making the public feel satisfied that the criminal has been dealt with in a sufficiently barbaric manner, a manner theoretically commensurate with the foulness of the crime in question.

This criticism may be extended to all parties and nations who believe in the death penalty, although the crucial question before wholesale condemnation occurs is “do its constituents actually want things this way?”

Do you have a cite for this fact? Because I have heard it stated the other way around - “Kill the criminals, it costs too much to keep them fed for 25+ years”.


Even if there was a death penalty it wouldn’t protect people. People would still be killed by murders. The murders will just be sentenced differently. You have a problem with the sentence. Life should mean Life.

You also may just be a supporter of the death penalty and just using this story to illustrate you point.

One way or the other whether the DP is enforced or not innocent people are going to be killed. There is no way any government on Earth can stop this all they can do is try and create a society where such incidents are kept to a minimum.

As for the costs. I’m sure some people have plenty of links about this but here’s one I dug up.


Boy you got a lot of loaded comments in there. Can I get cites on providing the public (as opposed to the victim’s family) with revenge fantasies and the sullying of lawyers leprous reputations? And I’m not trying to be smart but what does “horripilation” mean?

Yes, it was a deliberately rhetorical set of comments, particularly the part about the lawyers. I think it’s very hard to think of the death penalty, with many arguments of the modern world against it, as something unconnected to the drive for revenge. Such a drive is one of the possible reactions of a community (or individual) when it feels threatened and wronged.

Horripilation is a bristling of the body hair caused by fear (or other factors like cold, horror, etc.).

Learn somethin’ new everyday.

I agree with you. I don’t think having the death penalty is going to get rid of murder. And yes, I have a problem with people who are given a life sentence getting parole.

Actually, I’m not, well not 100% anyway. I realise that enough innocent people are sentenced to death for it not to be a good idea. But I also think that those people who are unequivically (sp?) guilty, like Timothy McVeigh and Asahara Shoko (the guy who orchestrated the Tokyo Subway sarin attack) need to be wiped from the planet. Having them around doesn’t help humanity at all, as far as I’m concerned.
I was simply interested in the point of view offered in that story. It was something I hadn’t ever considered before.

“no matter how many people you execute, it just doesn’t seem to cut down on the number of murders or violent crimes you have. It seems a fairly useless deterant.”

Substitue “imprison” for “execute”, and you can make the same type of argument. Why put people in jail, when it hasn’t halted crime? And since some inmates die of violence or natural causes related to their imprisonment and not 100% are guaranteed guilty, we risk an innocent person dying unnecessarily.

The only moral thing to do is to eliminate prisons, if you can’t bear the idea of an imperfect criminal justice system.