The Role of the Death Penalty on Preventing Future Crime Essay

8133 Words 33 Pages
Does the death penalty prevent future crime?

We are scared. Surveys find that the fear of crime is high and perhaps rising. So the question of prevention is important.

General deterrence is the idea that punishing an offender "deters" others from committing similar crimes. But does the threat of the death penalty actually discourage others from killing and thus make us safer? If so, does it do so significantly better than other forms of punishment?

Dozens of studies have examined the relationship between murder and the death penalty in Canada, the United States and elsewhere. They have compared murder rates in areas with the death penalty to those in areas without the death penalty. They examined what happened to murder rates
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Rather than preventing violence, capital punishment may have a "brutalizing effect" that increases the level of violence in our society. It may in fact raise, not lower, murder rates.

How could the threat of death fail to prevent -- and possibly even cause -- violence? To understand this phenomenon, we must look at the theory of general deterrence, especially as it relates to the death penalty.

The idea of deterrence assumes that:

1. Each of us decides our actions by weighing the cost of these actions against the benefits. When the cost -- in this case the threat of death -- outweighs the potential benefits, we are discouraged from committing crimes. Crime is the result of conscious, rational choices.

2. People have a good idea of costs and a high degree of certainty that they will suffer the costs.

3. The consequences are seen as a significant cost at the time of the act.

4. A potential offender identifies with those being punished.

These assumptions of deterrence theory fail to take into account the nature and meaning of interpersonal violence. They are often unrealistic when applied to the death penalty.
Let's examine these assumptions.

1. Some crimes, such as tax evasion, involve considerable rational planning and deterrence may have relevance to them. What we know about murder, however, indicates that…