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Deterrance Argument Disproved - Again

Emma Weisfeld-Adams

Image of Whac-a-mole game

"There may be other reasons to support the death penalty, but the belief that it deters murder should not be one of them," said Tomislav Kovandzic a University of Texas (UT) criminologist who testified at the most recent hearing of the New Hampshire Commission to Study the Death Penalty.

Kovandzic's UT study found no support for the idea that the death penalty has a deterrence effect. It wasn't exactly groundbreaking. Kovandzic himself told the commission that his work was consistent with repeated studies by criminologists and some economists. There are some outlier economists, Kovandzic noted, who apply econometrics (mathematical models used in economics) to the deterrence question and come to other conclusions. In one of the latest examples, an economist claimed that for every execution, 18 lives are saved.

Kovandzic's said you'd have to "torture the data" to get that outcome. He also debunked the whole idea of using econometrics in isolation to study deterrence. Econometrics assumes that killers make highly rational decisions based on access to perfect data about how many death sentences are handed down and carried out.

Such econometric studies "proving" that the death penalty has a deterrent effect continue to surface. It's like those whack-a-mole games where the little plastic moles just keep popping up. The moles certainly are persistent, but they are totally hollow, so they are really easy to bop down. Guess we just have to keep on boppin'.

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