Cass Sunstein and I have an Op-Ed in today’s Washington Post, discussing the mis-reading of available empirical evidence in recent death penalty jurisprudence.He adds some useful links to the debate on the death penalty for those interested.
Some background: A recent Supreme Court ruling (Baze v. Rees) reaffirmed the constitutionality of the death penalty, and along the way, the justices revisited the empirical literature on whether the death penalty has been shown to be an effective deterrent.
Justice Stevens cited research by John Donohue and myself in concluding that “there remains no reliable statistical evidence that capital punishment in fact deters potential offenders.” Countering this, Justice Scalia cited a paper by Cass Sunstein and Adrian Vermeule, in arguing that the data do in fact point to deterrence.
As two of the supposed flag bearers for the competing views cited by the court, Sunstein and I thought it worth poring over the data to see what we agree on. It turns out there’s a lot of agreement between us:
“In short, the best reading of the accumulated data is that they do not establish a deterrent effect of the death penalty.”
The full Op-Ed is available here (or else ungated, here). A readable introduction to this literature is available here.Greg Mankiw points out that the death penalty does solve the problem of recidivism, while Ronald Bailey at Reason magazine asks Does It Really Matter If The Death Penalty Deters Murderers? In the article Bailey argues
For those interested in the empirical observations in our Op-Ed, I have put together a longer document discussing that evidence, available here; there are plenty of pretty pictures and pointers to background material.
Don’t want to take my word on the evidence? I have collected the available data and posted it here — feel free to generate your own findings. And read Levitt’s $0.02, here, here, and here.
The reason to retain the death penalty is vengeance, or as more polite people put it, retribution.But notes at the end of the article
... in the era of post-conviction exoneration through DNA testing, I have become much more uncomfortable about the possibility that an innocent person might be executed.