death penalty

Death penalty may not impact murder rate

NYU (US) — Use of the death penalty does not affect subsequent murder rates, says a study of over 50 years of crime statistics in Trinidad and Tobago.

“Our analysis of homicides and serious crimes in Trinidad and Tobago seriously undermines the contention that capital punishment offers a solution to Trinidad and Tobago’s soaring homicide rate,” write the study’s co-authors, David Greenberg, professor of sociology at New York University and Biko Agozino, professor of sociology at Virginia Tech.

“Over a span of 50 years, during which these sanctions were being deployed in degrees that varied substantially, neither imprisonment nor death sentences nor executions had any significant relationship to homicides.”

A study on the impact of capital punishment in the Caribbean republic is of particular interest because of the high level of death-penalty sentencing there. The sociologists’ findings are published in the British Journal of Criminology.

“It has been hard to measure capital punishment as a deterrent to murder in the U.S. because it is administered infrequently,” explains Greenberg. “By contrast, in Trinidad and Tobago, the chances of actually being executed have historically been much higher.”

In the United States, the death penalty was reinstated by states more than 30 years ago—following a 1976 landmark Supreme Court ruling—while capital punishment has not existed in Canada or in western Europe for several decades.

By contrast, Trinidad and Tobago had high rates of death-penalty sentencing and executions prior to a 1993 court ruling, which barred the death penalty for inmates on death row longer than five years, thereby reducing the number of executions and death-penalty sentences. Though the courts continue to impose death sentences, none has been carried out in more than a decade.

The researchers note that from 1955 to 1980, homicide rates were relatively stable in Trinidad and Tobago, ranging from 4.44 per 100,000 (1955) to 4.34 (1980) during this period. However, during this same stretch, executions ranged from a high of 16 in 1969 to zero between 1980 and 1993.

By contrast, when executions rose to 11 in 1999, the murder rate rose in nearly every subsequent year until 2007, the last year calculated. In 2007, 391 homicides were recorded in Trinidad and Tobago—a country with a population of just 1,328,412—resulting in a rate of 29.4 per 100,000 population. This compares to a U.S. homicide rate in the same year of 5.6 per 100,000 population.

The researchers acknowledged the role geography could play into the findings.

“Generalizations from Trinidad and Tobago to other settings must obviously be made cautiously,” they write. “Every country has distinctive elements of culture, social structure, and social organization that may influence the way its population responds to criminal justice sanctions, including the death penalty.”

Murders in the republic have risen dramatically since 2000—when executions ceased, even though death-penalty sentences have continued—but this change says little about the impact of capital punishment as a deterrent to murder, Greenberg says.

“We can reject the argument that the cessation of executions brought about a big increase in murder in the last decade—in earlier years, big swings in the execution rate had no visible effect and the 11 executions in 1999 brought about no detectable drop in homicides.”

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chat12 Comments


  1. Dudley Sharp

    This is a fairly typical and bad review by the sociologists.

    They are not even measuring deterrence properly.

    Whether crime rates go up or down, stay the same, or are high or low, all criminal sanctions deter some.

    To indicate the idiocy of their conclusions, we have this:

    ““Over a span of 50 years, during which these sanctions were being deployed in degrees that varied substantially, neither imprisonment nor death sentences nor executions had any significant relationship to homicides.”

    Does anyone believe that homicides or other crimes would stay at the same rates if there was no sanction for murders or any crimes? Of course not, meaning, of course all sanctions deter some.

    3) “Death Penalty, Deterrence & Murder Rates: Let’s be clear”

    All prospects of a negative outcome deter some. It is a truism. The death penalty, the most severe of criminal sanctions, is the least likely of all criminal sanctions to violate that truism.

    1) 28 recent studies finding for deterrence, Criminal Justice Legal Foundation

    2) “Deterrence & the Death Penalty: A Reply to Radelet and Lacock”

  2. Dylan Kerrigan

    Dudley, your links are pretty poor. One is by you. One doesnt work. And the other is on a biased website in favour of the death penalty. You won’t win any argumnets with that sort of back up.

  3. Mick Alonso

    I saw a similar study amoung the xendiolopion natives, from which we can draw the same conclusions. What a load of garden fertilizer. People get paid to do this? Now there’s a crime we need a deterrance against.

  4. Knative

    LOL. So the death penalty doesn’t deter violent crimes in Trinidad and Tobago, but in Trinidad and Tobago people who murder are more likely to get the death penalty, so somehow, in the US, it’s different? Mick, you have to explain how this doesn’t show that the death penalty probably isn’t a good deterrent of murder. Bear in mind, that the burden of proof lies with the people claiming that the death penalty IS a good deterrent of murder.

  5. therealguyfaux

    Oh, for the love of Christ, if we’re not going to flog a dead horse yet again! Deterrence? The prospect of a long stretch in prison does not deter criminals! Does anything, except maybe a show of superior force at the time and place of the intended commission of the crime? Those who feel the only reason there should even be a death penalty is that it will act as a deterrent, are getting the whole idea 180 degrees wrong. Who cares if the death penalty deters anybody? Prison confinement is at bottom incapacitation; someone in prison is not going to mug you or rape you or steal your car whilst they’re in prison. And the death penalty is the ultimate incapacitation– someone who has been put to death will not mug you, rape you, steal your car or KILL you, ever. That the death penalty may be unevenly applied; that certain gradations of homicide deserve death more than others; that we may wish to be cautious when there is the possibility, even though somewhat remote, of factual innocence in a circumstantial case where forensic evidence may be less than unequivocal– all these are good valid arguments and can be made, of course, and I expect that they would be. But please, spare us any “deterrence” debates– it’s just pinhead-angels time when you do!

  6. red crucible
  7. Dudley Sharp


    Thank you.

    The 28 studies finding for deterrence.

    I win a lot of arguments with those. You contradicted none of it, because you cannot.

  8. Dudley Sharp



    Of course the death penalty deters. A review of the debate.

    1) Anti death penalty folks say that the burden of proof is on those who say that the death penalty deters. Untrue. It is a rational truism that all potential negative outcomes deter some – there is no exception. It is the burden of death penalty opponents to prove that the death penalty, the most severe of criminal sanctions, is the only prospect of a negative outcome that deters none. They cannot.

    2) There have been 28 recent studies finding for death penalty deterrence. A few of those have been criticized. The criticism has, itself been rebutted and/or the criticism doesn’t negate no. 1 or nos. 3-10.

    3) No deterrence study finds that the death penalty deters none. They cannot. Anti death penalty columnists Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune states, “No one argues that the death penalty deters none.” Yes, some do, But Zorn is correct, the issue is not “Does the death penalty deter?”. It does. The only issue is to what degree.

    4) About 99% of those murderers who are subject to the death penalty do everything they can to receive a lesser sentence, in pre trial, plea bargains, trial, in appeals and in clemency/commutation proceedings. Life is preferred over death. Death is feared more than life. No surprise. Would a more rational group, those who choose not to murder, also share in that overwhelming fear of death and be deterred by the prospects of execution? Of course.

    5) There are a number of known cases of individual deterrence, those potential murderers who have stated that they were prevented from committing murder because of their fear of the death penalty. Individual deterrence exists.

    6) General deterrence exists because individual deterrence cannot exist without it.

    7) Even the dean of anti death penalty academics, Hugo Adam Bedau, agrees that the death penalty deters .. . but he doesn’t believe it deters more than a life sentence. Nos. 4-6 and 10 provide anecdotal and rational evidence that the death penalty is a greater deterrent than a life sentence. In addition, the 28 studies finding for deterrence, find that the death penalty is an enhanced deterrent over a life sentence.

    8) All criminal sanctions deter. If you doubt that, what do you think would happen if we ended all criminal sanctions? No rational person has any doubt. Some would have us, irrationally, believe that the most severe sanction, execution, is the only sanction which doesn’t deter.

    9) If we execute and there is no deterrence, we have justly punished a murderer and have prevented that murderer from ever harming/murdering, again. If we execute and there is deterrence, we have those benefits, plus we have spared more innocent lives. If we don’t execute and there is deterrence, we have spared murderers at the cost of more innocent deaths.

    10) Overwhelmingly, people prefer life over death and fear death more than life.

    “If we execute murderers and there is in fact no deterrent effect, we have killed a bunch of murderers. If we fail to execute murderers, and doing so would in fact have deterred other murders, we have allowed the killing of a bunch of innocent victims. I would much rather risk the former. This, to me, is not a tough call.”

    John McAdams – Marquette University/Department of Political Science




    You can read here all the social (Fake) sciences is bunch of Karl Marx-wannbe in colleges reliving the youth “raging against the machince”


  10. Truth B. Told

    Killing people who kill people to keep others from killing people because killing people is against the law … oh, except when it’s not or pretends to be. Good plan. Likely to get more killed to avoid capture, if any effect at all. People at the bottom of the heap don’t think about deterrence, in the heat or alienated, limited, unsupported cultural and class-based expression of the moment…. while people at the top own the safeguards .. called “the best justice money can buy.’ In addition to that, those at the top of the heap create conditions ensuring that many more at the bottom will kill, but usually just each other. or be desperate enough to sign up for the dirty work of global mass murder, which the regime du jour sanctifies.

    The lowered quality of life of many allows many to not feel much is risked when risking or taking. Killing is criticized and feared yet glorified, in TV drama and by those so eager to inflict it via the State, wearing blinders and quoting social studies that only separate aspects of reality and not see the bigger picture, such as the beyond dubious, reified tautologies of the prior list of wishful and oversimplified Poly wanna cracker Sci. parrotings of status quo enablers.

    Killing millions where you have a part but don’t have to look at it or really know? Seems pretty okay on the view of what is going on, as most of you do it and plenty too many seem to love that… it’s in your training. Or perhaps you complain and hope this or that leader will get things done. In your dreams,. maybe, as it’s not happening, and won’t.

    Did the death penalty stop Henry Ford from building Hitler’s tanks during WWII? Or revealing the state secret formula for making artificial rubber that enabled Hitler to invade Poland? But the Ford Co. sued the U.S., govt after WWII for damages done to those tank factories… and won the case. Now there’s some law for you.

    These are not off-point matters but part of the true bigger picture, beyond the sanctioned Social Reality most get stuck in.

    Experimental sciences real? By their being ‘experimental’ Don’t fool yourself. Were the one’s that Monsanto did to “prove” agent orange is harmless real? The ones that fake their data or misread or misapply due to funding and ego and hoped for uses of the outcome? Selling toxic waste as medicinal force fed poison – fluoride – is another, or the circumcision studies. Faked and misread. The list is endless. Because, besides that, the very nature of what a fact is – including ‘scientific’ is bogged down and corrupted by deeper influences few have the wisdom or courage to overcome. Then beyond that, there’s that thing about doing something, with others. uh-oh.

    “I got my questionary, and they need me in this war. Now I can be a murderer, and not have to break the county law.” Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup (blues legend and father of Rock & Roll, Elvis’s great inspiration ) sang that 70 years ago, now that holds up.

    The death penalty applies to the poor only, and small time murderers. The conditions that create that ensure the endless hypocrisy of such contradictions being repeated.


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  12. Dudley Sharp

    Hardly Truth B. Told. More Ignorance B. Shouted.

    TBT wrote: “Killing people who kill people to keep others from killing people because killing people is against the law … oh, except when it’s not or pretends to be.”

    There are distinct moral differences between murder and execution, just as there are between kidnapping and incarceration, robbery and fines, crime and punishment, guilty murder and innocent victim.

    Some folks can discern the obvious moral differences, some, such as TBT and Big Boy, cannot.

    Of course criminals think about deterrence, just as all persons do. Criminals don’t rob, rape or murder, indiscriminately. They try to pick the time, place and person, when it is most likely they will not be caught, because they don’t wish to be caught and sanctioned. They are deterred in most circumstances. Some are deterred, some are not.

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