Europe's Crime Rate and Capital Punishment Part I

On some mornings you know what you’re going to do over the day, on some morning you wake up and see what the day keeps ready for you. Then there are mornings like this one when you think you know what’s going to happen, but then you read your name on Cominganarchy – surprise, surprise. Curzon wrote a brief outline of the evidence that the death penalty reduces crime. The post was triggered by a remark from my side that referred to a post about the Death Penalty in Japan on June 2nd.

The question is, does the death penalty have an effect as a deterrence and did the abolishment increase the crime rate in Europe? In his post, Curzon tries to back up his earlier statement with facts. Let’s take a look at those numbers.

Curzon draws a comparison between the homicide rates in the U.S. and Europe – since the definition of homicide is almost identical in most countries, I fully agree that comparisons of homicide rates are valid in this respect. He also posts numbers of a homicide rate cut in half in the last 20 years in the U.S. What happened, that it dropped from the 1980s to 2000? Was it really the death penalty, as Curzon exclaims (Wow, homicides cut in half! That’s quite an accomplishment.)? I agree, it is an accomplishment, but who or what do you have to thank for? Curzon speaks of a correlation, but he completely fails to show a connection between capital punishment and the changing homicide rate. He also makes the mistake to focus too much on one rather short period of time. If we take a few steps back and look at the big picture, you will find two peaks in the 20th century where homicide rates in the U.S. peaked. The first one was in the early 30s (keyword prohibition) with a homicide rate of 9,7 per 100,000 citizens and the second one was during the 80s (keyword war against drugs), as mentioned by Curzon, with a twice reocurring homicide rate of about 10 per 100,000 citizens until the 1990s. Following his argumentation, we would have to presuppose a rare use of the death penalty in 1930 and 1980.

The number of people on the death row increased steadily since the early 70s (which only means that the offenders were already isolated from society), but did the increase prevent the peak of homicide rates in the 80s? No, it didn’t. How many potential murderers showed up at their friendly neighborhood police station and stated that the death penalty deterred them from killing someone? If there ever was one, I’d honestly be surprised. But then, how do you know the death penalty deterred anyone? I’m using factsheets of the U.S. Department of Justice, the same source Curzon quoted and used.

In the 1930s, the number of executions hit an all-time high and decreased until the 60s, just as the homicide rate decreased. In Curzon-country, the number of homicides should have sky-rocketed, but they didn’t, in the contrary, it was cut in half. Does that mean a laisse-faire, dangerously liberal, left-wingish dilatoriness in regard to capital punishment surprisingly had the effect of people behaving better and killing each other less often? Of course not. Also in the early 1930s, the number of homicides peaked, where’s the correlation with the death penalty now? There is none, just as there is no deterrence. It’s a myth – far not as easy to correlate as a singular, decisive factor for decreasing crime rates as many, many supporters of the death penalty wish it to be.

During the background research for this response, I noted that supporters of the death penalty mention that during highly publicized death penalty cases the homicide rate is found to go down but it goes back up when the case is over, so that people react to it – Jon Manning, Curzon and alike fail to see that offenders don’t think logically. Murders are not logical per se, no murderer plans to be caught or wants to be caught or recieve the death penalty as a consequence of his (or her) doing. If you take Japan as an example, Younghusband already described the system there as very low-profile, how can it act as a deterrence if it’s low-profile? This part of your theory, Curzon, has no foundation.

I’ll continue with my reponse on the actual comparison between the United States and Europe after I come back from work (I’m sorry to keep you waiting 😉 ).

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