Monday, March 23, 2009

Death Penalty, Deterrence & Murder Rates: Let's be clear

by Dudley Sharp, 03/09

There is a constant within all jurisdictions -- negative consequences will always deter some. Whether a jurisdiction with high murder rates or low ones, rather rising or lowering rates, the presence of the death penalty will produce fewer net murders, the absence of the death penalty will produce more net murders.

In their story, "States With No Death Penalty Share Lower Homicide Rates", The New York Times did their best to illustrate that the death penalty was not a deterrent, by showing that the average murder rate in death penalty states was higher than the average rate in non death penalty states and, it is. (1)

What the Times failed to observe is that their own study confirmed that you can't simply compare those averages to make that determination regarding deterrence.

As one observer stated: "The Times story does nothing more than repeat the dumbest of all dumb mistakes — taking the murder rate in a traditionally high-homicide state with capital punishment (like Texas) and comparing it to a traditionally low-homicide state with no death penalty (like North Dakota) and concluding that the death penalty doesn't work at all. Even this comparison doesn't work so well. The Times own graph shows Texas, where murder rates were 40 percent above Michigan's in 1991, has now fallen below Michigan . . .". (2)

Within the Times article, Michigan Governor John Engler states, "I think Michigan made a wise decision 150 years ago," referring to the state's abolition of the death penalty in 1846. "We're pretty proud of the fact that we don't have the death penalty."(3)

Even though easily observed on the Times' own graphics, they failed to mention the obvious. Michigan's murder rate is near or above that of 31 of the US's 38 death penalty states. And then, it should be recognized that Washington, DC (not found within the Times study) and Detroit, Michigan, two non death penalty jurisdictions, have been perennial leaders in murder and violent crime rates for the past 30 years. Delaware, a jurisdiction similar in size to them, leads the nation in executions per murder, but has significantly lower rates of murders and violent crime than do either DC or Detroit, during that same period.

Obviously, the Times study and any other simple comparison of jurisdictions with and without the death penalty, means little, with regard to deterrence.

Also revealed within the Times study, but not pointed out by them,: "One-third of the nation's executions take place in Texas—and the steepest decline in homicides has occurred in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Arkansas, which together account for nearly half the nation's executions." (4)

And, the Times also failed to mention that the major US jurisdiction with the most executions is Harris County (Houston, Texas), which has seen a 73% decrease in murder rates since resuming executions in 1982 -- possibly the largest reduction for a major metropolitan area since that time.

Also omitted from the Times review, although they had the data, is that during a virtual cessation of executions, from 1966-1980, that murders more than doubled in the US. Any other rise and fall in murders, after that time, has been only a fraction of that change, indicating a strong and direct correlation between the lack of executions and the dramatic increase in murders, if that is specifically what you are looking for.

If deterrence was measured by direct correlation's between execution, or the lack thereof, and murder rates, as implied by the Times article, and as wrongly assumed by those blindly accepting that model, then there would be no debate, only more confusion. Which may have been the Times' goal.

Let's take a look at the science.

Some non death penalty jurisdictions, such as South Africa and Mexico lead the world in murder and violent crime rates. But then some non death penalty jurisdictions, such as Sweden, have quite low rates. Then there are such death penalty jurisdictions as Japan and Singapore which have low rates of such crime. But then other death penalty jurisdictions, such as Rwanda and Louisiana, that have high rates.

To which an astute observer will respond: But socially, culturally, geographically, legally, historically and many other ways, all of those jurisdictions are very different. Exactly, a simple comparison of only execution rates and murder rates cannot tell the tale of deterrence. And within the US, between states, there exist many variables which will effect the rates of homicides.

See REVIEW, below

And, as so well illustrated by the Times graphics, a non death penalty state, such as Michigan has high murder rates and another non death penalty state, such as North Dakota, has low murder rates and then there are death penalty states, such as Louisiana, with high murder rates and death penalty states, such South Dakota, with low rates. Apparently, unbeknownst to the Times, but quite obvious to any neutral observer, there are other factors at play here, not just the presence or absence of the death penalty. Most thinking folks already knew that.

As Economics Professor Ehrlich stated in the Times piece and, as accepted by all knowledgeable parties, there are many factors involved in such evaluations. That is why there is a wide variation of crime rates both within and between some death penalty and non death penalty jurisdictions, and small variations within and between others. Any direct comparison of only execution rates and only murder rates, to determine deterrence, would reflect either ignorance or deception.

Ehrlich called the Times study "a throwback to the vintage 1960s statistical analyses done by criminologists who compared murder rates in neighboring states where capital punishment was either legal or illegal." "The statistics involved in such comparisons have long been recognized as devoid of scientific merit." He called the Times story a "one sided affair" devoid of merit. Most interesting is that Ehrlich was interviewed by the Time's writer, Fessenden, who asked Ehrlich to comment on the results before the story was published. Somehow Ehrlich's overwhelming criticisms were left out of the article.

Ehrlich also referred Fessenden to some professors who produced the recently released Emory study. Emory Economics department head, Prof. Deshbakhsh "says he was contacted by Fessenden, and he indicated to the Times reporter that the study suggested a very strong deterrent effect of capital punishment." Somehow,
Fessenden's left that out of the Times story, as well. (5).

An analogy. Consider smoking. Whether a jurisdiction has high smoking rates or low ones, rather rising or lowering rates, the knowledge of medical problems from smoking will produce fewer net smokers, the absence of any medical problems from smoking would produce more net smokers.

It is the same for all prospects of a negative outcome - they all deter some.

Maybe the Times will be a bit more thoughtful, next time.

REVIEW

"The List: Murder Capitals of the World", 09/08, Foreign Policy Magazine
Capital punishment (cp) or not (ncp)
murder rates/100,000 population

4 out of the top 5 do not have the death penalty

1. Caracas (ncp), Venezuela 130-160
Bad policing.
2. New Orleans (cp), La, USA 69-95
Variable because of different counts in surging population. Drug related.
Nos 2 & 3 in US, Detroit (ncp), 46 and Baltimore (cp), 45.
3. Cape Town (ncp), South Africa 62
Most crimes with people who know each other.
4. Port Mores (ncp), Papua New Guinea 54
Chinese gangs, corrupt policing
5. Moscow (ncp), Russia 9.6
various

Of the Top 10 Countries With Lowest Murder Rates (1), 7 have the death penalty

O f the Top 10 Countries With Highest Murder Rates (2), 5 have the death penalty

Top 10 Countries With Lowest Murder Rates
Iceland 0.00 ncp
Senegal 0.33 ncp
Burkina Faso 0.38 cp
Cameroon 0.38 cp
Finland 0.71 ncp
Gambia 0.71 cp
Mali 0.71 cp
Saudi Arabia 0.71 cp
Mauritania 0.76 cp
Oman cp


Top 10 Countries With Highest Murder Rates
Honduras 154.02 ncp
South Africa 121.91 ncp
Swaziland 93.32 cp
Colombia 69.98 ncp
Lesotho 50.41 cp
Rwanda 45.08 ncp
Jamaica 37.21 cp
El. Salvador 36.88 cp
Venezuela 33.20 ncp
Bolivia 31.98 cp

(1) http://www.mapsofworld.com/world-top-ten/countries-with-lowest-murder-rates.html no date

(2) http://www.mapsofworld.com/world-top-ten/countries-with-highest-murder-rates.html no date


FOOTNOTES

1) "States With No Death Penalty Share Lower Homicide Rates", The New
York Times 9/22/00 located at
www.nytimes.com/2000/09/22/national/22STUD.html and
www.nytimes.com/2000/09/22/national/22DEAT.html

2) “Don't Know Much About Calculus: The (New York) Times flunks high-school
math in death-penalty piece", William Tucker, National Review, 9/22/00, located
at www.nationalreview.com/comment/comment092200c.shtml

3) ibid, see footnote 11

4) "The Death Penalty Saves Lives", AIM Report, August 2000, located atwww (dot) aim.org/publications/aim_report/2000/08a.html

5) "NEW YORK TIMES UNDER FIRE AGAIN", Accuracy in Media, 10/16/00, go to
www.aim.org/

copyright 2000-2012 Dudley Sharp: Permission for distribution of this document, in whole or in part, is approved with proper attribution.

Related Issues:

OF COURSE THE DEATH PENALTY DETERS
http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/2013/03/of-course-death-penalty-deters.html

LIFE: MUCH PREFERRED OVER EXECUTION:
99.7% of murderers tells us "Give me life, not execution"
http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/2012/11/life-much-preferred-over-execution.html

See sections C and D within
The Death Penalty: Saving More Innocent Lives
http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/2012/03/death-penalty-saving-more-innocent.html

"DEATH PENALTY DETERRENCE CLARIFIED"
http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/2012/12/death-penalty-deterrence-clarified.html

DETERRENCE, THE DEATH PENALTY & MURDER RATES
http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/2012/12/deterrence-death-penalty-murder-rates.html


The Death Penalty: Do Innocents Matter?


Innocents More At Risk Without Death Penalty
http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/2012/03/innocents-more-at-risk-without-death.html

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Victim's Voices - These are the murder victims