NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Death Penalty a Deterrent to Murder

February 26, 2004

Capital punishment deters homicides, according to economists H. Naci Mocan and R. Kaj Gittings. Statistically analyzing data published by the U.S. Department of Justice and looking at all death penalty cases in the United States between 1977 and 1997, the researchers determined that:

  • For every additional execution during the period of study, the number of homicides committed was reduced by five.
  • Each additional commutation increased homicides by about the same amount.
  • The removal of a death row inmate generated one additional murder.

The study found no evidence that non-capital crimes such as robbery, burglary, rape or motor vehicle theft are influenced by the execution or commutation rates. However, it did find that increases in the custody rate (the number of prisoners per violent crime) reduce the frequency of each of these criminal activities.

Source: H. Naci Mocan and R. Kaj Gittings, "Getting Off Death Row: Commuted Sentences and the Deterrent effect of Capital Punishment," Journal of Law and Economics, October 2003.


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