Saturday, February 23, 2013


Brutalization & The Death Penalty:
More Support for the Deterrent Effect
Dudley Sharp

In an econometric study, Dr. Joanna Shepherd, an economist and law professor, found a net increase in murders or no effect in those states that execute less than 9 murderers in a 20 year period (FOOTNOTE).

Yet, over the study period, with the use of the death penalty in the US, Prof. Shepherd found 1672 net innocent lives were saved by deterrence.

The deterrent effect overwhelmed the brutalization effect.

Prof. Shepherd finds that the number of lives saved would be dramatically higher with more executions.

Prof. Shepherd finds for deterrence and that if we increase executions, in all states, to , at least, one execution every two years, we will have a huge increase in deterrence, with all states having a death penalty deterrent effect, thus saving many more innocent lives . . .  and the brutalization effect goes away.

Those states which are concerned about saving more innocents from murder, will execute at least one murderer every two years, based upon this study.

If states wish to sacrifice more innocents, they will execute at a lesser rate, knowingly resulting in more innocents murdered and the states would, thereby, also keep more murderers alive, thusly contributing to even more additional innocents harmed and/or murdered, because of lesser incapacitation - living murderers can and do harm and/or murder, again, executed ones do not.

Prof. Shepherd presumes such increased murders, in those low execution states, reflects the "brutalization" effect, which is that potential murderers are so influenced by the brutality of the state, in executing murderers, that they are inspired to commit murder.
Prof. Shepherd finds that intuitive, even though her own evidence finds to the contrary.

I find it counter intuitive, as the findings from her review confirm.

I am unaware of any evidence or any study that finds academic support for the brutalization effect, based upon that cause, other than speculation. Are there any?

After a thorough review of deterrence studies, Professor Samuel Cameron observed,

"The brutalization idea is not one the economists have given any credence." "We must conclude that the deterrence effect dominates the opposing brutalization effect." ("A Review of the Econometric Evidence on the Effects of Capital Punishment", The Journal of Socio-Economics, v23 n 1/2, p 197-214, 1994).

By reason and the weight of the studies, his findings are confirmed, today.

Prof. Shepherd also finds that "For the first few executions, however, the deterrent effect is small. Only if a state executes many people does deterrence grow;. . ."

Even with small number of executions there is a deterrent effect. No surprise. Why she inserts "however" is a mystery. A "small" savings of innocent lives is always important, not a "however.".

If one interprets that the brutalization effect, as described, we should conclude that as the sanction for murder becomes less severe or if there is no sanction for murders, at all, that the peace and tranquility of the state, toward murderers, will so influence potential murderers, that murders would become fewer, as those murderers and potential murderers become so influenced by the peace and tranquility of the state.

Does anyone buy that?

In jurisdictions where governments are especially cruel, there appears to be a brutalization effect, as described, such as by the Nazis in WWII, wherein executions were random, in the millions and targeted innocents. But, here, brutalization is based upon civilians, rightly, defending themselves against such slaughter, a very different circumstance than what is described by Shepherd.

In the US, where the death penalty is sought very rarely, against guilty murderers and with due process protections being extraordinary, it is unreasonable to suggest a brutalization effect, based upon the states brutality so influencing potential murderers that they choose to murder, because of it.

Texas, by far the execution leader in the US, has only executed 0.7% of their murderers since 1973. When Texas started executing, again, in 1982, that year's murder total was 2466, In 2011, it was 1126, a 54% reduction in murders. The murder rate dropped from 16.1  to 4.4, a 73% reduction.

Dr. Shepherd's study confirms my conclusion - more executions equal greater deterrence, fewer executions results in lesser deterrence or, as she found, no deterrence or an increase in murders. The more merciful we are to murderers, the less merciful they are to the innocent -- the opposite of a brutalization effect and the opposite of Shepherd's intuition, which has no support.

Econometric experts, that I consulted with, find that something other than brutalization is at work, in Shepherd's study. I shared those comments with Prof. Shepherd.

We might ask: Why would potential and active murderers be so influenced by the state in such a deep philosophical manner, revealed by brutalization, but they wouldn't be more affected by the simple "you murder, we execute you?".

Death penalty opponents, including academics, make an interesting about face on this issue, conflicting with their position that criminals are so thoughtless and impulsive that they can't be affected by the potential of negative consequences, such as executions and the deterrent effect of severe sanctions, but, then, those very same death penalty opponents see criminals as so contemplative that their criminal actions increase because those criminals are so influenced by the "brutality" of the state.

In the context of the death penalty, as used in the US, it is absurd on its face.

One might ask death penalty opponents and other brutalization adherents: "Is there any other government action which influences criminals in such a fashion?" Do criminals kidnap more BECAUSE the state increases incarceration rates? Do criminals give money to potential victims BECAUSE the state provides welfare to the needy?

If Prof. Shepherd's study is academically sound, which I presume it is, something other than brutalization, as described, is at work, a conclusion shared by two other academics I consulted with and whose comments I shared with Prof. Shepherd.

Prof. Shepherd calls executions revenge, when she, as well as all, should know that the death penalty is supported for the same reasons all sanctions are, which is that they are just, appropriate and proportional, in the context of the crimes, with the added protections for the death penalty of super due process at all levels, which defines the death penalty as even more distanced from revenge than other, lesser sanctions.

Shepherd, calling the death penalty revenge is just a standard anti death penalty claim, which has no evidenciary support, based upon how the US enforces it, with unmatched due process protections and the fact finders, be they judges and/or juries, having no connection to the victims or the defendant.

There are no rational or factual reasons to call the death penalty revenge.


Dr. Shepherd's report is a clarion call to increase the use of the death penalty, if we want to spare more innocent lives and a warning to those who want to reduce executions or end the death penalty, that they will be sacrificing more innocent lives.


IMPACTS AMONG STATES", Joanna M. Shepherd,

Related topics


99.7% of murderers tells us "Give me life, not execution"

-- See sections C and D within
The Death Penalty: Saving More Innocent Lives



-- Innocents More At Risk Without Death Penalty

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

-- "Deterrence & the Death Penalty: A Reply to Radelet and Lacock"

-- DEATH PENALTY DETERRENCE: Rebuttal to Donahue and Wolfers:

Victim's Voices - These are the murder victims