Deterrence versus Brutalization: Capital Punishment’s Differing Impacts among States

Policymakers’ false beliefs about capital punishment’s universal deterrent effect may have caused many people to die needlessly. If deterrence is capital punishment’s purpose then, in the majority of states where executions do not deter crime, executions kill convicts uselessly. Moreover, in the many states where the brutalization effect outweighs the deterrent effect, executions not only kill convicts needlessly but also induce the additional murders of many innocent people. After Part II discusses capital punishment’s recent history in the United States, Part III reviews the conflict in recent studies on capital punishment and deterrence. Part IV explores differences in states’ applications of capital punishment and tests the effect on murder of executions in individual states. In Part V, I examine possible causes of the different effects of executions on murder across states. Part VI then offers results from two other models and data sets. Finally, Part VII presents conclusions.