Deterrence

The death penalty has often been introduced to act as a strong deterrent against serious crime, and the deterrence argument is commonly used to justify reintroduction. In a British parliamentary debate on the reintroduction of capital punishment in May 1982, one legislator said, "The death penalty will act as a deterrent. A would-be murderer will think twice before taking a life if he knows that he may well forfeit his own in so doing" (Sorell, pp. 32-33). He went on to argue that the absence of the death penalty had been associated with a rise in the number of ordinary murders, and an increase in the rate of murder of police officers. But the evidence for its having the power to discourage, or for its having a greater such power than imprisonment, is inconclusive (Hood). Indeed, deterrence generally seems to depend on potential offenders expecting to be caught rather than on their judging the punishment for an offense to be severe (Walker). In the case of murder, the deterrent effect is particularly doubtful: Murder is often committed in a moment of high passion or by those who are mentally disturbed (Sorell). Either way, the serious consequences of the act are unlikely to register so as to make the agent hesitate. An American review of statistical studies concludes that the deterrent effect of capital punishment is definitely not a settled matter, and that the statistical methods necessary for reaching firm conclusions have yet to be devised (Klein et al.).

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