Death Penalty Research Flawed, Expert Panel Says | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
Filed Under:

Death Penalty Research Flawed, Expert Panel Says

Play associated audio

Proponents of the death penalty often argue that the threat of being executed acts as a deterrent that prevents people from committing murder. But those who oppose capital punishment challenge that claim. And some researchers argue that state-sanctioned execution might actually increase homicide rates.

Now, a panel of independent experts convened by the prestigious National Research Council has taken a look at this question and decided that the available research offers no useful information for policymakers.

"We recognize that this conclusion may be controversial to some, but nobody is well-served by unsupportable claims about the effect of the death penalty, regardless of whether the claim is that the death penalty deters homicides, has no effect on homicides, or actually increases homicides," says Daniel Nagin, a public policy professor at Carnegie Mellon University who chaired the committee.

This committee did not examine the moral arguments for or against the death penalty. Its job was to look at the science. Nagin says the panel reviewed dozens of studies and found fundamental flaws.

For example, none accounted for the possible effect of other punishments on homicide rates. "The real question is, 'Does the death penalty deter more than other penalties, like life in prison?' None of the research from the past 35 years addresses this problem," says Nagin.

What's more, much of the available research assumes that people who might commit murder can accurately calculate their risk of being executed if they were convicted.

"In reality, this is very difficult to do," says Nagin.

Even researchers have a hard time determining that risk. And, Nagin says, basically nothing is known about how potential murderers — whoever they might be — actually perceive their risk of execution.

The report says it would be possible to design better studies to look at whether the death penalty has a deterrent effect — but they won't be quick or easy.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

In A Remarkable Feat, 'Boyhood' Makes Time Visible

Boyhood is about a boy in Texas whose parents have separated. Filmed over 12 years, audiences watch him grow up — and his worldview evolve. The cumulative power of the movie is tremendous.
NPR

Spread Of Palm Oil Production Into Africa Threatens Great Apes

Palm oil growers are setting their sights on Africa as they amp up production. More than half of the land that's been set aside for plantations in Africa overlaps with ape habitats, researchers say.
WAMU 88.5

Democrats Push To Overturn Hobby Lobby Ruling

Virginia's Tim Kaine and other Democrats are trying to overturn the ruling with legislation they say will protect female workers.
NPR

Friday Feline Fun: A Ranking Of The Most Famous Internet Cats

Forget the Forbes Celebrity 100. This is the Friskies 50 — the new definitive guide of the most influential cats on the Internet. The list is based on a measure of the cats' social media reach.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.