The death penalty does not prevent crime

Police officers don’t believe the death penalty is an effective deterrent. Police chiefs ranked the death penalty last among effective ways to reduce violent crime. A full 99% said that changes such as reducing drug abuse or improving the economy were more important than the death penalty in reducing violent crime.[1]

“I’ve spent my adult life working around and thinking about violent criminals. I assure you, the death penalty does not affect a criminal’s thought process. Very few consider the consequences of their actions and believe they will never be caught. I have never met a criminal who expected to be caught, or was deterred by the slight possibility he would be sentenced to death instead of spending the rest of his life in prison” Captain Jim Davidsaver, Lincoln Police Department“Repealing death penalty would make us ‘smart on crime’ “ Lincoln Journal Star, Nov. 23, 2014

In 2012, the National Research Council reviewed more than three decades of research and found no credible evidence that the death penalty deters.[2] This isn’t surprising: to the extent someone with a deadly weapon in a rage is going to be deterred from anything, the real prospect of spending a lifetime in prison is at least as persuasive as the small chance of getting executed.

“…a number of judges that were good friends of mine…and I frequently talked about it [the death penalty] and we kept our fingers crossed that at some time the Legislature would simply abolish the death penalty. And I support repeal…because…[the death penalty] is more of a state-sanction form of revenge that has no value whatsoever on a deterrent basis.” Ronald E. Reagan, Retired Sarpy County District JudgeTestimony before the Nebraska Judiciary Committee, January 29, 2009

Law enforcement see the death penalty’s other flaws up close

Law enforcement officials see first-hand the wide range of things that go wrong in capital cases. Even with the best intentions, police officers, lab technicians, prosecutors, judges, and witnesses can make mistakes or errors in judgment. For these reasons, some law enforcement have changed their minds and now oppose the death penalty.

Corrections officers and wardens who have participated in executions have found the experience takes a toll. From Texas to Florida to Oregon, corrections officers have experienced mental health problems, alcohol abuse, and other problems from the stress of the death penalty.

“Any corrections professional will tell you that the millions of dollars a state may invest in just one capital case would be more useful to them in the form of additional officers or programming than the death penalty could ever be.” Karen Jones of Central City, NEFormer Florida Death Row Corrections’ Officer. “Corrections officers face trauma,” North Platte Telegraph, January 29, 2015

The death penalty keeps murder rates high

In 2012, the murder rate, the number of murders per 100,000 of population, was 4.4 in Texas, 6.5 in Missouri, and 2.9 in Kansas and Nebraska, all death penalty states. In the non-death penalty states of Iowa and Minnesota, the rate was 1.5 and 1.8 respectively.[3]

In states that have ended the death penalty, there has been no subsequent spike in murder rates. In fact, the murder rate has fallen in New York, New Mexico, Illinois, and Connecticut in the years after they repealed the death penalty.[4]

Homicides of law enforcement officials have even decreased in states after they abolish the death penalty.[5]

“The exorbitant costs of capital punishment are actually making Americans less safe because badly needed resources are being diverted from proven, effective crime fighting strategies such as community policing. Millions of dollars that are being spent on capital punishment could be used to fight crime in many other ways, such as improving police technology, better lighting in high crime areas, more probation and parole officers who can better supervise defendants on probation and parole and a more efficient court system.” Leslie J. Seymore, of Lincoln NebraskaRetired police officer and past President of the National Black Police Association

  1. Death Penaltly Information Center, “On the Front Line: Law Enforcement Views on the Death Penalty,” 1995; 2008 poll of 500 police chiefs in the United States, conducted by R.T. Strategies of Washington, DC.
  2. D. Nagin and J. Pepper, “Deterrence and the Death Penalty,” Committee on Law and Justice at the National Research Council, April 2012.
  3. FBI Uniform Crime Reports 2012
  4. “Murder Rates Nationally and by State,” Death Penalty Information Center.
  5. “Facts about law enforcement deaths by homicides in states that have ended the use of the death penalty since 2007” – data compiled by George Kain, Ph.D. and Terrence Dwyer, Esq., using the Officer Down Memorial Page.