A series of academic studies over the last half-dozen years claim to settle a once hotly debated argument: whether the death penalty acts as a deterrent to murder, says the Associated Press. The analyses say yes. They count between three and 18 lives that would be saved by the execution of each convicted killer. AP says the reports have horrified death penalty opponents. So far, the studies have had little impact on public policy. A New Jersey commission on the death penalty this year dismissed the body of knowledge on deterrence as “inconclusive.”
“Science does really draw a conclusion. It did. There is no question about it,” said Naci Mocan, an economics professor at the University of Colorado at Denver. “The conclusion is there is a deterrent effect.” A 2003 study he co-authored, and a 2006 study that re-examined the data, found that each execution results in five fewer homicides, and commuting a death sentence means five more homicides. Among the conclusions of various studies: Each execution deters an average of 18 murders, said a 2003 nationwide study by professors at Emory University. The Illinois moratorium on executions in 2000 led to 150 additional homicides over four years afterwards, said a 2006 study by professors at the University of Houston. Speeding up executions would strengthen the deterrent effect. For every 2.75 years cut from time spent on death row, one murder would be prevented, concluded a 2004 study by an Emory University professor. In 2005, there were 16,692 U.S. cases of murder and nonnegligent manslaughter and 60 executions.