There are many misconceptions about the death penalty that contribute to supporters’ defense of it. High on the list are the arguments that the system enhances public safety by sending a warning to would-be perpetrators and preventing violent crime.
But in reality, studies show that those who commit violent crimes (like murder) do not think about the potential consequences when acting. Moreover, states with the highest rates of executions also tend to have the highest rates of murder and violent crime.
Rather than acting as a deterrent, the death penalty is, in fact, partly to blame for the reality that the majority of crimes are never even solved. I’ll explain why.
The murder clearance rate in the U.S. is among the lowest in the world, with fewer than 60 percent of homicide cases cleared on average. A clearance rate refers to a case where an arrest is made or a suspect is identified but not apprehendable, so the percent of homicides that actually lead to a conviction is even lower.
Why is this? There are a multitude of problems within the justice system that contribute, but reports show that at the top of the list is a lack of law enforcement resources. In a 2009 study, Police Chiefs also ranked a lack of resources as the top barrier for effective law enforcement. Tellingly, they ranked the death penalty as the least effective measure for combating crime in that same study.
Justice is expensive and resources are limited. Therefore, if the primary purpose of the criminal justice system is to make society safer, resources must be dedicated to the programs that have proven most successful at preventing, deterring, and solving crime.
The death penalty certainly isn’t one of them. 88 percent of criminologists agree that the death penalty is not a deterrent, and the data backs them up.
Regions of the country with the most executions continue to have the highest rates of violent crime (the South), while regions that have very few executions or that have repealed the death penalty have very low violent crime (the Northeast). In fact, in 2016 the murder rate in non-death penalty states was 4.49 compared to a murder rate of 5.63 in states with the death penalty. That’s a 25 percent difference.
Not only is the death penalty not a deterrent, it’s a resource zapper. It is far more costly than any other sentence, including life without the possibility of parole.
When you consider the fact that the death penalty is the most expensive part of the justice system on a per-offender basis, then couple that with the fact that the death penalty does not deter or reduce crime, it becomes pretty obvious what needs to go. The resources wasted pursuing death sentences for a cherry-picked number of cases would be more effectively used staffing, equipping, and training police departments so they could solve more crimes.
And while we’re focusing on unsolved homicides here, let’s not forget that limited resources also mean many other violent crimes go unsolved (and only about 50 percent are reported in the first place).
For every 1,000 rapes in this country, only 310 are reported to police, 11 are referred to prosecution, and merely six will result in incarceration. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of rape kits sit untested across the country, while the sands run out on the statute of limitations for victims to press charges. That problem has gotten so bad that the federal government has given grants to over twenty jurisdictions to pay for the processing of this evidence — something that should already be in their budget.
To top it off, only one-third of property crimes are reported in the U.S. each year, and of those only 19 percent are cleared. Resources wasted on the death penalty are resources that can’t be used towards solving these crimes as well.
It is in no way just to waste millions of dollars a year pursuing death for a few cases while most victims receive no justice whatsoever, nor is it just to waste millions of hard-working Americans’ tax dollars on a system that provides them nothing in return.
If the primary purpose of the system is to make society safer and actually advance justice, then the death penalty not only fails to contribute to that goal, it acts as a huge barrier.
Hannah Cox is the National Manager of Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty. Hannah was previously Director of Outreach for the Beacon Center of Tennessee, a free-market think tank. Prior to that, she was Director of Development for the Tennessee Firearms Association and a policy advocate for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.
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