The death penalty and its effects on a state's murder rate have long been a point of controversy. It has been debated whether the death penalty is a deterrent to crime. “At least until a decade ago, there was widespread consensus among criminologists that the death penalty could not be justified on deterrence grounds” (Radelet, 2009). But there is disagreement, “In the early 1980s, the return of the death penalty was associated with a drop in the number of murders” (Adler, 2007).
There is an ongoing need to understand the deterrence effect of the death penalty, in order to understand how to properly lower the murder rates in a given area. Further, in order to understand if the death penalty is applied in a given state , it is important to look at the political orientation of a particular state. Political orientation can have a strong affect on the punishment type chosen by a particular state.
This study seeks to clarify the debate by looking at the statistical facts, and formulating hypothesis. (1) the death penalty is a deterrent for the crime of murder. (2) Conservative states are more likely to employ the death penalty. Null hypothesis, (1) the death penalty has no effect on the murder rate. (2) political leanings of a state do not determine if they have the death penalty.
A study by Michael Radelet and Tracy Laycock, examines the issues of the death penalty and homicide rates. From the beginning of the study though, it is obvious the authors have biased themselves towards the death penalty. The authors make claims like, “The importance of the deterrence justification for capital punishment has declined precipitously in recent years among the general public” (Radelet, 2009). But the only data they used to back up this claim is a vague reference to 1985 Gallup poll (Radelet, 2009). The article fails to mention who the people were surveyed in the Gallup poll. After all the sample pool used by Gallup may provide skewed results based on the participants in the survey.
The methodology of the study maybe flawed as well, the study sent out surveys to the 3500 criminologists in different areas of the country (Radelet, 2009). The study asked these criminologist questions of the criminologist like, “if they believe that abolishing the death penalty in a given state would affect that state's homicide rate” (Radelet, 2009). Another question on the survey, “ .. .Asks if politicians support the death penalty as a symbolic way to show that they are tough on crime (Radelet, 2009). While this maybe an interesting questions to learn about peoples opinion of the death penalty, they are not based in the facts and statistics of the issue.
A 2005 study by Richard Berk also seeks to understand if there is a connection between the death penalty and deterrence. Berk's Study looks at the homicide rate per 1000 people, on a nationwide basis (Berk, 2005). This study seeks to find empirical data of lower execution rates, directly equaling lower homicide rates. However, this study is very broad in nature, looking at the per capita rate on a nation wide basis instead of breaking down by state. The study makes broad assumptions without looking at the individual differences between states that do have the death penalty and states that do not. The study even go so far as to single out the state of Texas, by not including it in the rest of the results (Berk, 2005). By removing this very large and populous state from the study, and recording it's finding separately, the conclusions of the study becomes skewed. Without a state-by-state look at the death penalty and its deterrence effect, it is hard to correctly determine the relationship of these two variables.
In effort to further understand the nature of deterrence on a state-by-state basis, it is also important to look at the political affiliation of a state. An article by Eric Ostermeier brings out that so-called red states have higher crime rates then liberal states (Ostermeier, 2009). The article points out that in 2004, 19 blue states “.had an average violent crime rate in 2004 of 361 incidents per 100,000 residents” (Ostermeier, 2009). According to the article during that same time period 31 red states, “.had an average violent crime rate that year of 419 incidents per 100,000 residents or a 16.3 percent higher rate (Ostermeier, 2009). The article fails to clarify which states it considers red or blue.
An article by Kathy Gill examines executions performed by red states and blue states. The article claims that between 1997 and 2004, 91% of all executions were performed by red states (Gill, 2015) She also picks Texas in particular as a red state to single out, “Texas ranked 13th in the country in violent crime and 17th in murders per 100,000 citizens. However, Texas leads the nation in death penalty convictions and executions” (Gill, 2015). The article however offers no explanation as to blue state executions, claiming they only account for 9% of all executions during that time (Gill, 2015).
Online resources were consulted, http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org , in order to determine the independent nominal variable death penalty and the dependent ratio variable murder rate per 100,00. The murder rate for each of the 50 states for the year 2009 were recorded in appendix A. These variables were then entered in to a t-test to determine their significance.
In order to determine the independent variable Color of state, a 2008 presidential election map was consulted ("Election map", 2008). This Map of the state showed whether a state was red or blue depending on how they voted in the 2008 presidential election. These figures were also recored in appendix A. The dependent nominal variable death penalty and the independent nominal variable state color were then entered into chi-square Calculator to determine the significance of the numbers.
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The results show that the null hypothesis, the death penalty has no effect on the murder rate, is true. The T-test suggests that a relationship does not exists between the variable death penalty and the variable murder rate. The value of P=.098 being more then .05.
Other factors could contribute to the murder rate, further studies should be conducted on murder rate and total population of a state. Additional studies could be conduced on murder rate and geographic location of a state. For example New Mexico has no death penalty is a blue state with a murder rate of 9.9 the second highest of any state. Perhaps the high murder rate could be attributed to the state location with the US Mexico border? The highest murder rate of any state come from a red state with the death penalty, Louisiana with a staggering 11.8. This is a non border state, so why the high rate? There is obversely no deterrence factor of the death penalty, the murder rate itself should be studied to determine the cause.
The Chi-square suggests that a relationship does exists between the variable death penalty and the State color. The value of P=.000787 being less then .05. Therefore Hypotheses two has been proven true, conservative states are more likely to employ the death penalty.
There are only a couple exceptions to this, Alaska, North Dakota, and West Virginia. Once again total population could come in to play here. Further studies in to the population of a state and if they employ the death penalty should be conducted.
Red state may want to be seen as getting tough on crime. Blue states may want to be seen a more liberal and progressive. Although it should be pointed out that the biggest state by population and a blue state, California, employs the death penalty. Once again suggesting that further studies based on state population should be conducted.