statistics – the death penalty and deterrence

A lot of ink has been spilt over whether the Death Penalty deters criminals or not. Those against the Death Penalty cite Texas, and claim that although Texas executes more people than any other state, they still have a lot of murder (even higher than states without the death penalty).

Ignoring the fact that the demographics of Texas is not close to any of these no-Death Penalty states, the statistics are being used falsely. The nominal number of executions is being cited, when to be a deterrent, the percentage rate should be the issue. Let us pretend that I tell my son and my daughter they can’t eat any cookies without permission. My son steals ten cookies per day, making 70 stolen cookies in a week. I catch him every time and punish him only 5 of those times. Let us also pretend my daughter steals two cookies. I catch her both times and punish her both times. Even though my son was punished more than my daughter, should anyone claim that my given punishment will deter my son?

Out of 70 cookies, he was punished 5 times. When he thinks about stealing a cookie, he knows he only has a 1 out of 14 chance in getting punished. Those odds are in his favor. My daughter knows that she is punished every time she steals a cookie. Her odds of being punished are 1 out of 1 (100%!). Although my son is punished nominally more than my daughter, he still has very little chance of being punished.

The same goes for the death penalty. In the US, between 1976 and 2011 there were 689,475 murders. In that same time (through 2013) there has been 1338 executions. There is much less than a 1% chance of being executed. In fact there is 19% of 1% chance (0.19%) of being executed for a murder. This is one out of 515! Granted there are double homicides and sometimes double perpetrators. Sometimes those being executed did not commit murder. This is a rough estimate.

In Death Penalty Texas, between 1976 and 2011 there were 63,801 murders. In the same time there has been 496 executions. Even in Death Penalty Texas there is less than a 1% chance of being executed for murder. In fact there is 74% of 1% chance (0.77%) of being executed for a murder. This is one out of 135!

This is all not to mention that the average time on Death Row is 15 years.

So when people say the Death Penalty is not a deterrent, they mean “a one in 515 chance of being executed 15 years later while having a chance at blanket pardon” is not a deterrent. I tend to agree.

About christopher fisher

The blog is meant for educational/entertainment purposes. All material can be used and reproduced in any length for any purpose as long as I am cited as the source.
This entry was posted in Death Penalty, Goverment, Statistics. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to statistics – the death penalty and deterrence

  1. Excellent post. With such a small percentage of murderers being executed, it is no surprise that it is not strong deterrent. .

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