Flawed Research Cited in Question of Death Penalty as Deterrence


In the 36 years since the national moratorium on the death penalty was lifted, there is no reliable research to determine whether capital punishment has served as a deterrent to homicide, according to a review by the National Research Council reported by USA Today. The review, partially funded by the Justice Department’s National Institute of Justice, found that a shortcoming in all previous studies has included “incomplete or implausible” measures of how potential murderers perceive the risk of execution as a possible consequence of their actions.

Another flaw, according to the review, is that previous research never considered the impact of lesser punishments, such as life in prison without the possibility of parole. “Fundamental flaws in the research we reviewed make it of no use in answering the question of whether the death penalty affects homicide rates,” said Carnegie Mellon University professor Daniel Nagin, who chaired the council’s study committee. Nagin said Wednesday that the panel reviewed the work of “dozens” of researchers since a 1976 Supreme Court decision ended a four-year national moratorium on executions.

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