Recent news accounts reported a study that concluded the death penalty rarely, if ever deters murder.
A researcher named Brian Forst at the Institute for Law and Social Research in Washington D.C. made a stastistical study of murders in 32 states between 1960 and 1970.
His finding, Forst said, was that murder rate increases were smaller in states which ended the death penalty than in states that did not.
His conclusion was, that if capitol punishment deters muder, the homicide rate should have increased the fastest in states where the risk of executioin went down.
His conclusion, however, is erroneous because it is based on an erroneous assumption . . . that the mere adoption of a death penalty law will deter potential murder.
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The adoption of a death penalty or any othe punishment for that matter is not what deters criminals. What deters them is the knowledge the penalties will be applied. You don't fear something that doesn't happen no matter what the law.
Forst did find out that where the penalty is applied, such as a stiff prison term, there seemed to be a deterrent effect.
That should surprised nobody.
During the long months of debate this year over the death penalty in California, in and out of the legislature, nobody claimed that the mere fact of adopting a capitol punishment statute would automatically deter homicides.
As a matter of fact, during the period of 1963 to 1972, California had a death penalty on the books, but there was only the execution in 1976 - and so the murder rate went up dramatically.
However, in the ten years before the death penalty moratorium in this state, the homicide rate remained stable, and that was during time when executions occurred regularly.
In fact, in his study, Forst found that the largest murder rate increases tended to occur in states with a poor record of capturing and convicting killers.
That, too, is not surprising.
Swift and pure punishment has long been known to deter criminals.
So what is required is for persons convicted under the death penalty to be executed once all their appeals have been exhausted.