June 20, 2005

If you don't think the death penalty deters crime, why would you think the right to vote deters crime?

Jeremy asks.


Charles said...

It deters crime because politicians get elected that would have those crimes decriminalized, I guess. Pretty soon all drug crime and drug related crime would be off the books. Then money laundering, racketeering, and eventually murder. On the other hand, perhaps some new crimes would take their places like any broadly defined "hate crime." That could include voting the wrong way? Too funny! How do those guys get elected?

Dave said...

Do people really advocate the death penalty based on the idea that it is a crime deterrent?

I've always thought that an odd way to think of the death penalty. To my way of thinking, unjustified murderers are morally worthless human beings. How do morally worthless people have any claim on their life? Why should our tax dollars be spent on sustaining their lives?

The moral issue that supports the death penalty is not one of crime deterrence. It's of utility and putting society's resources to efficient use.

shana said...

I would say that the death penalty is a bit of a crime deterrent, considering that person will never commit a crime again.

Drethelin said...

saying death penalty is deterrant is like saying you exterminate roaches to discourage the others.

as far as deterrance goes, these days pretty much the only people who get the death penalty would be the kind whom it wouldn't deter, psychopaths and mass murderers.

lindsey said...

"The moral issue that supports the death penalty is not one of crime deterrence. It's of utility and putting society's resources to efficient use."

I would say that crime deterrence is an issue worthy of putting society's resources to efficient use.

Anyway, re: the death penalty, if the penalty for stealing a loaf of bread is getting your hand cut off, you're going to be less likely to steal the bread. Imo, it's an obvious deterrence. There's no logical reason for it not to work as a deterrent unless you think crime is non-deterrable period. Imo, crime is obviously deterrable. The change in NY's crime rates over the past decade is imo obvious evidence of that.

Abraham said...

It's commonly stated that there are several main goals of sentencing:
1. Rehabilitation
2. Incapacitation
3. Deterrance
4. Punishment

As applied to the death penalty:
1. Rehabilitation. Not a factor. A dead person cannot be rehabilitated.
2. Incapacitation. Death is the ultimate incapacitation. It is physically impossible (barring a zombie infestation) for the executed to commit further crimes.
3. Deterrance. The effectiveness of the death penalty as a deterrance is unclear. Some evidence suggests it is not much more effective than life in prison. However, there is good reason to believe that marginal cases might be dissuaded.
4. Punishment. To me, this is the strongest case for the death penalty, and the one that is not addressed adequately by the anti-death-penalty crowd. For many people, there is an innate sense of justice and fairness that is satisfied unless this ultimate punishment is carried out for the most heinous of crimes; anything less seems like tacit approval.

Dave said...

Excellent point, Abraham.

Another thing about the anti-death penalty crowd that I don't get is they are so focused on procedural errors and/or racism that they conclude the death penalty must never be applied.

But these arguments conflate two issues: (1) the procedural issues leading up to the execution, and (2) execution itself. If people are wrongly convicted, or if convictions are racist (i.e., more blacks are sent to death row than whites) then that would suggest that everything up to the point of execution needs to be reconsidered, not the death penalty itself.

People will say "well, don't you want to make sure that we don't execute someone who's truly innocent?" Fair enough. But there are also people whose guilt is quite obvious (OJ Simpson and Timothy McVeigh are the ones that come to mind, but there are many, many others).

jeremy said...

During the 2000 Presidential Debates, Bush cited the deterrent effect of the death penalty as the main reason he supported it.

carla said...

Statistically, there is little or no evidence that the death penalty is a deterrant. Whether or not we "think" it does isn't especially relevant.

I personally don't agree with the death penalty except in the most extreme of cases and where DNA evidence is conclusive.

EddieP said...

Dave and Abraham have it. The death penalty is, and should be, strictly for punishment. Deterrence doesn't and shouldn't shouldn't enter into it. And in fact if you listen to the anti-death penalty crowd, their argument is just that. However, lack of deterrent value is no reason not to employ it. And, as noted,there is the deterrent value derived from getting the murderers off the streets.