The death penalty has been a controversial issue for many years. It was established centuries ago and has been accepted by society. It was put into place to punish those who had committed an offense against laws of the institution that was in place at the time. Within our society the death penalty has been associated with several symbols. ‘An eye for an eye,’ is a symbol that has come to be the representation of the death penalty; which was one of the original ideas behind it. Times have changed and the death penalty is now used for more serious offenses and considered to be a deterrence.
The death penalty should be abolished because it does not effectively deter crime. I will be discussing the lack of deterrence on the death penalty through the symbolic interactionism perspective. There should be no doubt afterwards that the death penalty is not a deterrence. There have been many studies done by criminologists on the deterrence effect and the death penalty. Many researchers have been able to show through their studies that there is a deterrence while others have shown that there is a lack of it.
Michael Radelet and Traci Lacock, in Do Executions Lower Homicide Rates? The Views of Leading Criminologists, analyze the studies that have been previously conducted by criminologist researchers and find many flaws within these studies. In order to support their theory, Radelet and Lacock, conduct a study of their own that questions the deterrence effect. Their study is based on a 2008 questionnaire from the top criminologists of the world; which consists of 12 questions that are based on the death penalty and deterrence.
This study is similar to the one done previously by Michael Radelet and Ronald Akers in 1996; which also consisted of the leading criminologists of the world and their expertise on the matter. Having the death penalty as a punishment does not necessarily mean that it will deter people from committing murder. Based on research by Benjamin Tyree, in Does the Death Penalty Deter Crime? , he introduces a study that is based on the analysis of two distinct hypotheses that answer this question.
The first hypothesis relates to whether states that have the death penalty will have lower crimes punishable by death in contrast to states that do not have the death penalty. The second hypothesis relates to whether states with most executions will have fewer crimes punishable by death in contrast to states that have less frequent executions. In order to effectively make an accurate conclusion of his findings, Tyree uses two separate case studies for each hypothesis. The statistics of his analysis conclude that the hypotheses that are used in this study are not those expected.
Since the time that the death penalty was enacted we have changed the way it is enforced because society has changed the crimes that are punishable by death. Society has created a reality where values and morals are instilled in us throughout the course of our lives so that we could interact with each other in an ethical manner. According to society there are certain things that are considered to be evil and wrong; therefore society is the one that re-creates the social change that is necessary. When one breaks the law, it is a symbol of straying from the norm.
We should not let our beliefs cloud our judgment about the death penalty and the deterrence effect that was created by society. In fact, we should leave the deterrence theory to the experts. “88. 2% of the polled criminologists do not believe that the death penalty is a deterrent, up slightly from 83. 6% in 1996” (Lacock and Radelet, 2009, p. 501). Many of us would admit that if someone that we cared about was murdered the first thing that comes to mind would be the death penalty; a symbol of revenge.
You would assume then that before committing murder the symbol that is represented by the death penalty would come to one’s mind and deter them accomplishing that. Another symbol that is represented by the death penalty would be fear; the fear of having our own life taken away because that is what is most sacred to most of us. There are more states that currently enforce the death penalty than those that do not. According to Lacock and Radelet (2009) 87% of the criminologists concluded that abolishing the death penalty in a given state would affect that state’s homicide rate (p. 501).
These responses of the leading criminologists go hand and hand with the results based on statistics shown by Tyree. When there are states that enforce the death penalty as a society we would assume that there would be fewer crimes punishable by death according to the reasons that our society created the death penalty for; which is deterrence. In the first case Tyree uses “The crime rates of Texas, the most frequent user of the death penalty, and Michigan, which does not have the death penalty statute, were compared. Using the crime rates for these two states, measuring every five years from 1970-2000” (Tyree, 2007, p. ).
These statistics can be used to analyze the number of murder rates between states that have the death penalty and those that do not. This will allow us to get a perspective of whether or not there is a deterrent effect. This is a good way to see actual numbers of deaths that have been committed in each state. “The murder rates per 100,000 inhabitants for the state of Michigan in 1980 were 10. 2 and in the state of Texas were 16. 9. In 1990, the murder rates for Texas were 14. 1 and in Michigan were 10. 4. ” (Tyree, 2007, p. 8).
These are certainly statistics that society would not think would correlate with the death penalty based on the perception that it is effective. Tyree (2007) continues to state that the other statistics show that in Texas the murder rates are higher than those in Michigan (p. 8). Based on these two states we can assume that having the death penalty does not deter people from committing murder, but it does not give us enough information to come to a stable conclusion. In order to avoid any assumptions that the death penalty will change someone’s mind before committing a crime that is punishable by crime, we need more substantial results.
The second test was performed using Virginia, who follows Texas in number of convicts executed since 1976, and Massachusetts, with no death penalty” (Tyree, 2007, p. 9). The relationship between these two states should give us a broader perspective as to whether the death penalty deters people from committing murder. According to the findings of these two states, “the murder rates per 100,000 inhabitants, for the state of Virginia in 1990 were 8. 8 and in the state of Massachusetts were four. In 2000, the murder rates for Virginia were 5. 7 and in the state of Massachusetts were two” (Tyree, 2007, p. 9).
This allows us to form a more accurate perspective of how the states that have the death penalty actually have a higher rate of murder in contrast to the states that do not have the death penalty. These findings are contrary to the belief system within our society that symbolizes the death penalty as a deterrent. The criminologists were “asked if they agreed that the empirical research shows that the death-penalty states have lower homicide rates than neighboring non-death penalty states. Conversely, 74. 1% of the 2008 experts believe the research shows that this assertion is false” (Lacock and Radelet, 2009, p. 01-502).
These criminologists are obviously aware of the research that has been carried out among the states and that is why they do not agree with the rates of homicide being lower. There should never be assumptions when it comes to giving expert opinions. The symbolic interactionism connects to the death penalty in the way that society functions within each other. If a murderer wants to commit a crime then they will do so without caring about what society thinks of them or of their ethics. They have their own belief system that influences their behavior and actions.
People are no longer afraid of the death penalty and these findings are the evidence to that. They tell us that the reality that has been created by society where the death penalty is not critical anymore needs to be reanalyzed. Politics also have ways of representing the death penalty as a symbol of power. Among the criminologists they were asked “if politicians support the death penalty as a symbolic way to show that they are tough on crime. Overall there was a strong agreement in with this statement in the 1996 and 2008 samples” (Lacock and Radelet, 2009, p. 02).
The symbols that the death penalty appears to be within our society, based on these findings, should not be of deterrence but rather of failure. There is no symbol within our society that correlates to the negative results of the death penalty. We value life and therefore the implications of someone taking that from us are punished to the extent of the law. Sometimes we make these laws without knowing if they are effective and that is the reason that we would like the deterrence effect to be a reality.
According to Tyree (2007), he created a second test to evaluate the deterrence effect by using the number of executions within states (p. 10). We must analyze the correlation between the time of sentencing and that of execution to determine if there is an actual impact on deterring criminals. “In 1996, 26. 9% of the respondents thought that shortening the time between sentence and execution would add to the death penalty’s deterrent effect. In 2008, only 12. 4% thought so” (Lacock and Radelet, 2009, p. 503). The statistics are not the only data that we can see so far that shows a distance between the death penalty and deterrence.
The criminologists can be seen as a justification to these findings. The second test “compared murder rates among states that often use their death penalty statutes and those who have a statute, but do not often utilize it” (Tyree, 2007, p. 11). This is a great opportunity to examine if when the death penalty is enforced crimes punishable by death will decrease. There is no point in having a statute in place if it is not going to be enforced; this should be the main reason to make people think twice before committing a crime.
Society is going to disregard the consequences of the offense because they know that if they break the law nothing will happen to them. Let’s take for example if a person knows that if they kill someone and their perception of the reality that they live in is that the death penalty is not going to be enforced, then the consequences according to society are not going to appear as severe. It’s almost as if they got away with murder. “The states of Montana, which executed two and Missouri which executed 61 between 1976 and 2004” (Tyree, 2007, p. 11) are used to represent his second study.
The executions that were done during this 28 year p don’t seem to be a whole lot when we think of how many people are actually on death row. The In this we would assume that social action needs to take place so that deterrence can become effective. One must also analyze the executions because if there were only two executions in Montana during that time period then one would assume that there was not a deterrent effect in contrary to the 61 executions that were carried out in Missouri. “In 1995, Missouri had about 11 murders and Montana had about 3 murders.
In 2000, Missouri had about 6 murders while Montana had about 2 murders” (Tyree, 2007, p. 11). These results show that the murder rate is higher in those states that carry out more executions than those that execute less frequently. The reality that we can see through these statistics is that there is no deterrence. In the following case study used, “the state of Oklahoma executed 75 and Pennsylvania which executed three. Oklahoma has maintained a higher murder rate than Pennsylvania in each year since 1976” (Tyree, 2007, p. 12).
This connects to symbolic interactionism once again because people are obviously not concerned when it comes to committing crimes that are punishable by the death penalty. The execution rate is not a factor to the individual when they break the law. They are not thinking of the death penalty or their interactions within society before they commit these crimes.
The interactions between the murderer and the consequences are obsolete. “Responses show that 18. 7% of those in the 1996 sample thought that increasing the frequency of executions would increase the overall deterrent effect, but only 8. % thought so in 2008” (Lacock and Radelet, 2009, p. 503), which we can conclude that the ethics among our society have not changed.
The results from the statistics and the criminologists are credible sources that should create a new perspective of the lack of deterrence of the death penalty. “The message is clear: few of America’s top criminologists believe that the threat or use of the death penalty can reduce homicide rates any more than long-term imprisonment” (Lacock and Radelet, 2009, p. 503). Many will continue to argue that the death penalty deters crime but I would have to argue to the contrary.
The statistics and the opinions of the experts can justify this. The possible solution to all this would be simply to remove the death penalty. It is obvious that the death penalty does not stop people from committing crimes. Although it is obvious that the correlation between the two is not there, we must now make a social change as to what will be effective. The death penalty is a failure when it comes to deterring people within our society and we need to once again reevaluate the death penalty; as it has been many times before.
One possibility that could be done to reevaluate the death penalty is abolishing it once again. The death penalty is not implemented enough so removing it would not make much difference. We must create a reality without the death penalty and focus on creating a society that is more effective on crime. Instead of wasting the money on the death penalty, we could use that money for more law enforcement, crime prevention programs, and most importantly education. Annotated Bibliography Lacock, T. L. , &Radelet, M. L. (2009). Do Executions Lower Homicide Rates?
The Views of Leading Criminologists. Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology, 99 (2), 489-508. There have been previous studies done in regards to the deterrent effect on the death penalty. Many of these studies show that there is a deterrent effect when the death penalty is imposed. In this article the authors from the University of Colorado-Boulder criticize these researchers because they find many flaws in their studies. In order to support their theory that there is no deterrent effect on the death penalty Michael Radelet and Traci Lalock conduct a study based on a questionnaire.
They selected the world’s top Criminologists from Fellow in the American Society of Criminology (ASC); those who had won the highest award presented by ASC, or had been president of the ASC between 1997 and 2008. They were asked their expert opinion on this subject based on questions that were previously used in a study conducted in 1996 by Radelet and Akers. The results of the survey from the experts indicate that the death penalty will not deter people from committing murder; which were the same results from the 1996 study.
Based on the findings of this study the conclusion is that the death penalty is not a deterrent based on the expertise of these criminologists. Tyree, Benjamin S. , (2007). Does the Death Penalty Deter Crime? University of Richmond Law Journal Law Review, 41 (1), 1-17. There are many that might argue that the death penalty deters crime, however, in recent studies done this is not the case. A researcher at the University of Richmond conducted a study based on two hypotheses that will determine if the death penalty effectively deters crimes that are punishable by death.
The researcher, Benjamin Richmond, uses two different tests to examine these two hypotheses. Richmond uses in his first test the murder rates within two states that enforce the death penalty and two states that don’t enforce the death penalty. In his second test, Richmond uses the murder rates within two states that often execute their inmates in contrast to two states that seldom execute their inmates. He finds that the results of the hypotheses that were used are completely the opposite. The conclusion then, based on statistics, proved that the death penalty does not have a deterrent effect on crimes punishable by death.
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