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Executing Justice
January 8, 2010 8:04 PM   Subscribe

A new study of death penalty deterrence by researchers from Sam Houston State University and Duke University suggests that there is a decline in murders in the month of or after executions. Meanwhile, Kenneth Mosley became the 448th inmate executed in Texas since 1982 on January 7th, 2010. (Last link: previously, previously and previously)
posted by mrducts (50 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
And executing everybody would end all murders forever. At some point, you have to decide what kind of civilization you want to have in exchange for certain securities or dangers.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 8:10 PM on January 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


A new study ... suggests that there is a decline in murders in the month of or after executions.

This is passe. What we really need to study is whether or not the guilt or innocence of the person executed had an effect on the monthly crime rate.

If executing an innocent person causes the rate of homicides to drop as much as executing someone who was actually guilty, we can simply dispense with the (already anemic, dying) notion of American justice and just move on to human sacrifice. (Which is, I suspect, what we really want).

I mean, if this study is true, the government could just start choosing people to kill by lottery and reduce the number of homicides that way. Hell, it may frighten people enough to keep them from committing a whole bevy of crimes. So why not?
posted by Avenger at 8:15 PM on January 8, 2010 [11 favorites]


FYI, Sam Houston State University, is in Huntsville, Texas, home to the Walls unit, where executions take place as well as the Texas Prison Museum
http://www.tdcj.state.tx.us/stat/drowfacts.htm
texas death row facts
posted by eelnosaj at 8:21 PM on January 8, 2010


Several questions spring to mind immediately:
- how does the notional decrease in murders compare with the number of innocent people executed? In other words, leaving aside other arguments about capital punishment, is there a net benefit here?
- is the notional decrease permanent, or do would-be killers simply postpone their murders?
- are there places where life sentences with no parole get a lot of fanfare in the press? If so, is there any measurable effect?
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 8:24 PM on January 8, 2010


I have a hard time buying this. Although I never killed anyone when I lived in Texas, I never really paid attention to when the executions occurred. I guess if I was going to kill someone, I'd keep up on that? Maybe if they televised the executions there'd be higher awareness and "more lives would be saved" by killing more people.

And while they're saying it isn't politically motivated, the study happens to come from the university in the same town as Texas' death row? I'm sure that's just a coincidence. As opposed to this strong correlation between the executions and homicides.
posted by birdherder at 8:26 PM on January 8, 2010


This isn't the death penalty story I expected to see this week given the fact that America's foremost legal think tank (the American Law Institute) announced this week that the difficulties in finding even a tolerable system for administering capital punishment were too great to overcome and that it would stop seeking a way to do so.
posted by greekphilosophy at 8:29 PM on January 8, 2010 [5 favorites]


The fact that we* execute people at all shows just how horribly backwards the United States is, deterrent or no.

'we' of course, being Americans, a group I like being part of less and less.
posted by dunkadunc at 8:29 PM on January 8, 2010


That would indicate that we need to execute more criminals to reduce crime? That would be reducing the prison (over) population from both ends. I don't think the private prison industry is going to like that.
posted by doctor_negative at 8:30 PM on January 8, 2010


And executing everybody would end all murders forever. At some point, you have to decide what kind of civilization you want to have in exchange for certain securities or dangers.

Right. And that is exactly the question being addressed by studies of deterrence. Because most Americans are happy to execute people almost certainly guilty of heinous murders if that reduces crime.

That hardly means they'd be interested in "executing everybody" to prevent crime. There's a pretty huge difference between the two. That difference IS the decision you're talking about.

I mean, if this study is true, the government could just start choosing people to kill by lottery and reduce the number of homicides that way. Hell, it may frighten people enough to keep them from committing a whole bevy of crimes. So why not?

Just because costs and benefits are taken into account doesn't mean all common sense is tossed out the window. By your logic, imprisonment should also be disallowed. After all, isn't it horrible to put someone in a prison? I mean, the kinds of people who want to put guilty people in prison to deter crime must logically want to put innocent people in, too, right?

...given the fact that America's foremost legal think tank (the American Law Institute) announced this week that the difficulties in finding even a tolerable system for administering capital punishment were too great to overcome and that it would stop seeking a way to do so.

This is the real crux of the argument.
posted by shivohum at 8:34 PM on January 8, 2010


But not in the month the guy is sentenced, or the month leading up to the execution, which is when the idea of the death penalty is actually in the public's eye?

Besides the comically poor science, besides the immorality, unconstitutionality, besides the innocent people killed, besides the racial disparities, anyone who would even consider talking about "deterrence" has just never given any thought to the concept of life without parole.

If you think eventual execution deters people, but the possibility of living 40 or 50 more years in a hellhole and then dying doesn't... I don't know what to tell you, because that's nonsense.
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:44 PM on January 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


I've always been a huge supporter of capital punishment on the basis of the simple equation that two wrongs do actually make a right. Also I like living in Medieval times. (sarcasm)
posted by Monkeymoo at 8:45 PM on January 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


I hate discussions about whether the death penalty is an effective deterrent, or whether or not it's possible to design a system of capital punishment that won't kill innocent people. A perfectly effective death penalty, that never executes a single innocent person and deters other people from committing murder is still immoral. Nothing an individual can do justifies taking their life; everyone deserves at least that small bit of mercy, no matter how heinous their crimes.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:46 PM on January 8, 2010 [5 favorites]


This isn't the death penalty story I expected to see this week given the fact that America's foremost legal think tank (the American Law Institute) announced this week that the difficulties in finding even a tolerable system for administering capital punishment were too great to overcome and that it would stop seeking a way to do so.

Yeah, it's a pretty stunning reversal, and if it isn't material to this post then nothing is. From the NYT: Group That Shaped Death Penalty Gives Up on Its Own Work.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:48 PM on January 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't give a fuck if it makes the crime rate go up, go down, or do the funky chicken. I'm against the death penalty because it's fucking barbaric. What is this, a spaghetti western?
posted by notsnot at 8:49 PM on January 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


(Which is, I suspect, what we really want)

(You suspect correctly).
posted by clarknova at 8:49 PM on January 8, 2010


The USA has three times the intentional homicide rate of Canada, which has no capital punishment.
So better beer has an even greater deterrent effect than capital punishment, amirite?
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:51 PM on January 8, 2010


Then there's the fact that a person who commits a murder or other serious crime is either:

a) completely lacking in impulse control
b) lacking the sanity to make rational choices
c) desperate enough not to care about their own life
or
d) coldly calculating they can get away with the crime.

What do those four types of people have in common? They either do not believe they will be caught and convicted, or lack the rationality to consider the consequences of being caught and
convicted.

To think that potential criminals sit down and make a "pro/con" list before a murder betrays a 2nd grade level understanding of human behavior.
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:52 PM on January 8, 2010 [6 favorites]


Studies like this are actually helpful, as they let us clarify our argument. Ignoring any problems with the study, and if we take it as perfectly true that capital punishment does reduce the murder rate, then it forces us to pare down our argument to its single most important point: it is wrong to kill people.

Regardless of how much of a deterrent it is, regardless of how flawed the system is, the salient point is that killing people is wrong. The deterrent argument, even with this new data, is still a non-starter. Capital punishment can turn carbon emissions into marshmallows for all I care, it is still a fundamentally wrong thing to do.
posted by twirlypen at 8:54 PM on January 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


That hardly means they'd be interested in "executing everybody" to prevent crime. There's a pretty huge difference between the two.

My point was that it's a means that cannot justify this end, because it's disgusting. I get so sick and tired of "deterent" arguments when it comes to different Dark Ages forms of punishment, whether it's execution, caning or whatever. These are sickening practices either way, and if something being a deterent were the sole measuring stick for whether or not a form of punishment should be employed, well shit, just open the flood gates and make the whole penal system into one big Sam Raimi film.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 8:57 PM on January 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sorry, was on my phone. Broke out the computer. If we're to have this conversation, I want to be a proper part of it.

This week, the American Law Institute announced that it would stop seeking a solution to the question of capital punishment. Why is this a big deal? It's a big deal because the American Law Institute is probably one of the most powerful voices in shaping American law aside from, oh, say, the Supreme Court. The ALI is a group that is relatively new in a historical sense. But it effect has been profound - providing comprehensive codifications in just about every area of law you might imagine. They do this in a number of ways, but primarily through what are called Restatements of the Law. Restatements are distillations, analysis, legal reasoning and suggestions which tend to be adopted, followed, or even just considered by states and the federal government when making the law.

The tiny article that appeared in the paper this week is important for a couple of reasons - not least of which is that we seem to have reached the point at which more and more states are abandoning the death penalty "officially," after having done so "practically" years ago. A history.

Just a little about my interest: Roger Clark (one of the professors quoted in the Times article) was one of my professors in law school. I took his course on Foreign Relations and National Security Law - not because I was even remotely interested in those subjects but because he was one of the most respected professors in the law school. The death penalty is something I'm passionate about, and after hearing that he was so dedicated to working to dismantle it here in the US, I wasn't going to pass up an opportunity to learn from him.

I think he's right when he says that the ALIs abandoning of capital punishment dismantles the intellectual underpinnings for it here in the US. And that's what twirlypen is pointing to. We're no longer stuck in a battle of imposing capital punishment safely, or for "justified means." We now simply have to ask whether we think death by mob - or allowing the government a monopoly on murder, if you will - is acceptable. And while I fear many Americans will see that as entirely acceptable, I have faith that saner, and by that I mean more constructive, heads will prevail.
posted by greekphilosophy at 9:03 PM on January 8, 2010 [4 favorites]


We now simply have to ask whether we think death by mob - or allowing the government a monopoly on murder, if you will - is acceptable.

That's an interesting way to frame it. The NYT article mentions "A study commissioned by the institute said that decades of experience had proved that the system could not reconcile the twin goals of individualized decisions about who should be executed and systemic fairness. It added that capital punishment was plagued by racial disparities; was enormously expensive even as many defense lawyers were underpaid and some were incompetent; risked executing innocent people; and was undermined by the politics that come with judicial elections."

But aren't all of these problems endemic in prison sentences too? And in fact aren't procedural protections generally far higher in the death penalty realm than for prison sentences? So then the question seems to be whether the general problems in the criminal justice system, exacerbated by the particular harshness of capital punishment are too high a cost to pay to obtain other values, like deterrence.
posted by shivohum at 9:26 PM on January 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


Ohhhhhhh.....“Evidence(the plural of anecdote not being data.) exists of modest, short-term reductions in the numbers of homicides in Texas in the month of or after executions,” the study published in a recent issue of Criminology, a journal of the American Society of Criminology, said.
t.y Houston chronicle. I just hadn't realized the case for permanently ending a fellow human beings lives was based on such solid logic; I hadn't seen this airtight reasoning used ever before...
Wait... yeah, that was the same logic used to torture to death accused witches in the dark ages.
Sounds like a death panel to me.
With news articles like that, it's likely we will see the next right wing presidential hopeful campaign on some way to set up a convenient list of people who are unamerican...

"we can start weekly ritual killings today, for less killings sometime on or after today!!"

To which we should say bring those candidates on... America is not that vengeful. America is not there. They will swiftly lose in the wider America, those who come bearing such barbaric state empowered violence against it's own people... are on a political dead end.
This practice will be looked back at in history as a part of a wider web or, "echo boom" of the misguided ideologies that radiate tendrils outwards from the western dark ages.
I am sorry and apologize for my part in the silence before this human beings death by intentional killing which adds to an already tragic event; as any violence that involves money inevitably is.

.
posted by infinite intimation at 9:28 PM on January 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yup, but while time and life are both precious, fleeting and irreplaceable - incarceration is hardly as final as death.

That said, I think you're right that this is a problem with the criminal justice system and not with the death penalty alone. In my opinion, this harkens back to the theoretical underpinnings of having a criminal justice system. Deterrence is discussed above, but that's only one reason why we have a criminal justice system. Other reasons include: rehabilitation, mitigation/prevention of future harms, educating the public about proper behaviors and retribution.

Yeah, you read that correctly: retribution. It's still listed in text books as one of the philosophical supports for our criminal justice system. And I would argue that this debate flows from the fact that many of us today believe it to be an IMPROPER foundation for a criminal justice system.
posted by greekphilosophy at 9:33 PM on January 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


The USA has three times the intentional homicide rate of Canada, which has no capital punishment. So better beer has an even greater deterrent effect than capital punishment, amirite?

Uh...I'd argue we have better macro beer, but the US microbrews kick our asses. There is no widely-available Canuck equivalent to a nice hoppy Red Hook.
posted by jimmythefish at 9:39 PM on January 8, 2010


c'monAt some point, you have to decide what kind of civilization you want to have in exchange for certain securities or dangers.

Testify. I'd rather play it safe and kill violent criminals, rather than jail them and even sometimes parole them. I think the net result will be fewer deaths.

Sucks be to the innocent schmuck who gets executed every now and then. But again, there will be less net innocent schmucks dying with my awesome idea. Plus, it's not Hollywood. How many totally innocent "I'm off to work, honey, I'll pick the kids up from swimming lessons on the way home, love you!" schmucks get caught up in such events? I mean, c'mon.

The prisoners arrive in the entrance hall here, and are carried along the corridor on a conveyor belt in extreme comfort and past murals depicting Mediterranean scenes, towards the rotating knives. The last twenty feet of the corridor are heavily soundproofed. The blood pours down these chutes and the mangled flesh slurps into these...
posted by uncanny hengeman at 9:58 PM on January 8, 2010


the kinds of people who want to put guilty people in prison to deter crime must logically want to put innocent people in, too, right?

Since the "tough on crime" folks I am familiar with scoff at the very idea that anyone in prison might be innocent, I think you are exactly right. e.g.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 10:00 PM on January 8, 2010


Bugger. Ignore that first c'mon. I was quoting Marissa.

I was wondering where the hell it had gone. I caught it 1,000,000th of a second after I hit Post Comment. As you do.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 10:01 PM on January 8, 2010


It's a big deal because the American Law Institute is probably one of the most powerful voices in shaping American law aside from, oh, say, the Supreme Court. The ALI is a group that is relatively new in a historical sense. But it effect has been profound - providing comprehensive codifications in just about every area of law you might imagine. They do this in a number of ways, but primarily through what are called Restatements of the Law. Restatements are distillations, analysis, legal reasoning and suggestions which tend to be adopted, followed, or even just considered by states and the federal government when making the law.

Ummm...the ALI of today has the smallest fraction of influence that it had several decades ago. You describe the many roles it plays in crafting the Restatements...distillation, suggestion, etc. It would be more accurate to say that at a time when common law reigned supreme, the ALI was focused on distillation, but in an age of active state legislatures it's just another group of eggheads crafting their wish lists into policy proposals. Let's the ALI comes out with another version of the Model Penal Code that explicitly condemns the death penalty. You think pro-death penalty advocates are going to break a sweat? You called the ALI a think tank (accurately, these days). Why do you think it'll be harder to dismiss than the Brookings or the Center for American Progress?
posted by aswego at 10:10 PM on January 8, 2010


You talking about killing? Hmm? Y'all experts? Y'all know about killing?

I'd like to hear about it, potheads. [takes rifle bong and inhales]
posted by uncanny hengeman at 10:13 PM on January 8, 2010


I agree with you aswego, this is hardly the final nail in the coffin. (Sorry, it's late. I get punny.) But I disagree that this is the same kind of dismissible thing that a standard think tank might come out with. The ALI exists to find compromise and solution for the American legal system's many problems. They've announced that they can't find a solution for this problem. That's SO very different from Amnesty International or the ACLU announcing that they don't believe there to be a workable solution. This gives those organizations - and all the tireless advocacy they've done to oppose the death penalty - that much more gravity. And it is that advocacy that pro-death advocates are going to have a hard time outrunning. They've lost one more shelter to hide behind.
posted by greekphilosophy at 10:32 PM on January 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Can someone explain how the hell the study established clear and direct causation between executions and a temporary reduction in the murder rate, as opposed to plain old correlation?
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 4:39 AM on January 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


The USA has three times the intentional homicide rate of Canada, which has no capital punishment. So better beer has an even greater deterrent effect than capital punishment, amirite?

=

Sorry, don't know how to quote. Anyway just wanted to point this out. Canada and the USA differ in a lot of ways, not just in this one dimension. And homicides are determined by a lot of those other ways that make Canada and the USA different. This is why the authors probably focus just on Texas.
posted by scunning at 6:37 AM on January 9, 2010


I ran my own little experiment. The only test subject was me, but I'm pretty convinced.

There is shit I might conceivably do in the US that I might not do in China because China will kill you for it. For instance:
Smuggling cultural relics, gold, silver or other precious metals, the export of which is forbidden by the State, or precious and rare species of wildlife as well as the products thereof, the import and export of which are forbidden by the State if the circumstances are especially serious.
That's a capital crime in China. If I were really hungry and I had a chance to make a lot of money carrying stuff that falls into that category, I might do it across US borders but not Chinese. "Fuck no! I ain't carrying no panda over the border to Russia. No siree, Hong!" would be my considered decision. And I would not be a Ponzi schemer in China, where guys like Bernard Madoff are put down like mad dogs, whereas I just wouldn't put it past me in the US if the potential rewards were in the billions and the potential punishment was to sit in a room.

But for stuff that actually gets you capital punishment in the US -- these days, that's pretty much almost always murder -- I would not be deterred. Regardless of the potential punishment, either I'd get drunk and beat my brother in law with a baseball bat until you couldn't read Louisville Slugger or I wouldn't. Things like that don't come after contemplation of the applicable laws. And once you get started in on a thing like that and the carpet and wall paper need to be replaced, you don't stop along the way to consider whether you might ease up a little so they don't give you the chair but they do give you forever in a box.
posted by pracowity at 7:28 AM on January 9, 2010


On issues of social policy the ALI has become entirely subverted by the left-liberal law professoriat, and as such is unlikely to be influential upon any democratic process: no respect is due any conclusion the outcome of which is pre-determined. (The ALI's emerging take on family law is significantly more radical than its take on the death penalty, by the way.)

I think that we've probably reached the crest of anti-death penalty political momentum in this country. Any tangible increase in crime will provide a quick corrective to the bleeding-heath sentimental luxury that Democrats have afforded themselves on this -- they'll choose to retain their offices over keeping the breath in the bodies of worthless animals.
posted by MattD at 7:48 AM on January 9, 2010


The worthless animals who kill people, of course.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 7:56 AM on January 9, 2010


Just curious, has anyone actually read the article? I mean, I haven't, I have no idea whether their findings are supported and am a fervent death penalty opponent, but this thread is yet another reminder that academic research is one of the things that MeFi doesn't handle well. Let me suggest that any blistering counterargument you may have devised, which doesn't address specifics of the study but rather your general assumptions about how the criminal mind works, may have already been thought of by the authors, their departmental colleagues who may have seen early versions of the article, peers and reviewers at conferences where it may have appeared, and the reviewers and editors who read it during the journal submission process. Maybe they didn't, and your tossed-off but incisive take-down is right on the money, even if it just amounts to HURF DURF SAM HOUSTON STATE. But it doesn't strike me as likely.
posted by aaronetc at 7:56 AM on January 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well, here's the thing - most people are contending in this thread that the deterrent factor isn't the issue; that even if it were true, it would still be barbaric. So in light of this, reading the material doesn't matter if this is what you believe.

Having said that, what I found interesting is that what the abstract actually contends is that there is evidence of short-term, modest reductions in homocide after an execution, but that also there is evidence of "displacement of homocides". Nowhere in the abstract does it contend the death penalty is a detterent. It seems to very carefully note the two data points - execution, small dip in homocides - without leaping to conclusions. Compare this to the headline of the article in the second link: "Study says Texas death penalty a homicide deterrent".
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 8:27 AM on January 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


There is always someone in the world to whom you are a worthless animal.
posted by kipmanley at 8:35 AM on January 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm torn about this report and about the death penalty generally. Even if there is a deterrent effect from executions, the ALI is right: there's no way to make the death penalty "fair" from where and how we currently administer justice in this country. There are too many historical problems, and not just race, but things like how getting a death penalty jury increases your likelihood of getting a conviction in the first place and the problems with police labs in capital-case-friendly jurisdictions (see: Harris County).

On the other hand, I look at a case like Ponchai Wilkerson and wonder what the hell we're supposed to do with someone like him. He robbed a gun shop, committed a string of violent crimes (including the shooting up cars incident mentioned in the second link, which I was a witness to and which is why I followed the case) beyond the capital murder he was convicted of, tried repeatedly to escape from prison, and had a skeleton key in his mouth when he was executed. He's not your average death row felon, obviously, but he's your textbook case for "needed killin'".

I don't know how you resolve the tension between protecting society from violent predators who are an ongoing threat even in prison and the fact that a flawed society imposes the death penalty. Maybe it's barbaric to kill a man like Wilkerson, but there may also be cases where killing him is the lesser evil. You don't have to think he's a worthless animal to believe that.
posted by immlass at 8:55 AM on January 9, 2010


Yeah, I'll do it.

Metafilter: has anyone actually read the article? I mean, I haven't
posted by inigo2 at 9:17 AM on January 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


OK. I'm not a statistician. However:

evidence exists of modest, short-term reductions in homicides in Texas in the first and fourth months that follow an execution

I suspect that this is flawed analysis. What they're basically admitting is that they correlated murder rate versus executions and tried a number of hypotheses to see what fit. In order for this to be valid, you need to have a very high certainty of a correlation before you come to any conclusion. I suspect they don't have such strong correlation or else they wouldn't have described the the reduction as modest.

It's unfortunate that there's no details of the analysis or the confidence levels, but I will say that the fact that they claim to see a decrease four months after an execution (and presumably not two or three) makes me think they've fallen into this trap. Perhaps someone with access to the article can comment.
posted by All Out of Lulz at 11:41 AM on January 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


I agree with you, MattD, that the ALI is a progressive body - but I think characterization as "subverted" is a bit silly. It was DESIGNED to be a progressive body. William Draper Lewis was not looking for a conservative body to put a stamp of approval on the seriously fractured set of laws that were evolving among the several states. The body was created to unify - which long about World War I was still a contentious concept. (Recall that the ALI was formed long about when economists were still arguing about whether there was a "national" economy.) In fact, some of the ALIs earliest work was on the precursor to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document that the ALI called the "Statement of Essential Human Rights" which predated and heavily informed the drafting of both the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration.

But I would still argue that the ALI exists to find solutions to commonly identified problems. The solutions it finds might not be the ones you would choose, and they might be more progressive and experimental than you would like, but that doesn't mean they are wrong and it doesn't mean that it is done with some wild agenda in mind. I sincerely doubt that the ALI would have debated this issue for the last THIRTY years if it was a foregone conclusion that they would abandon capital punishment. Come on. It didn't take ACTUAL advocacy orgs that long to declare the death penalty impossible, immoral and unworkable.

I'd be very curious to find out about the radical alterations to family law (even though I absolutely hate family law with a passion and would never, in a million years, make it my practice). Coming from someone who is suspicious of the liberal agenda the ALI, that criticism tends to indicate that those radical ideas are probably things like "equality."
posted by greekphilosophy at 12:10 PM on January 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Other considerations, including deterrence, aside, the power of putting an individual to death is not one that should be assigned to government, any government, existing or imagined, being imperfect.
posted by Morrigan at 3:38 PM on January 9, 2010


I am in favor of executing people in certain circumstances, but arguing that, because there may be some sort of statistical likelihood that executions will convince other people not to do crimes, we should end the life of a human being - a pretty sacred thing, frankly, no matter what they've done - would only be a few notches morally above arguing that we should end a human life because it would save lives. Really, I don't think that those who argue this have thought through how cold and irrational they've become about something so important; in any other situation, they'd probably see how barbaric and authoritarian it sounds to try to "make an example" of a particular criminal by showing others "what will happen if you act like that" - the moral indignity that implies.

Execution is a serious step - hell, it's clearly the most serious step the state can take in the life of a citizen. So that citizen's well-being should be the only thing taken into account before deciding to execute. I know that flies in the face of what's often argued by a host of people who are invariably standing around and begging for "justice" of some kind in situations like these: the family of the victim, those who are afraid of similar criminals, et cetera. I know that often those people will say, with much social weight behind them, that we need revenge (er, "justice" - sorry) for the victims of the family, or that we need to clamp down and choose one or two people to "make an example" to other criminals. As hard as it may seem, we simply have to ignore those voices within the confines of the important decision about whether to execute someone.

The only consideration in the decision to execute a member of society should be: does this benefit the person being executed?
posted by koeselitz at 10:08 AM on January 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


—after all, serial murderers, child molesters, and rapists – and the rest of those often considered for execution – are guilty of terrible, terrible crimes, but does that exempt them from all rights to human dignity? By executing them without any consideration of their own well-being, we as a society are tacitly answering "YES; these people don't have any human dignity left." And when we answer that way, we're denying that human beings have any really fundamental moral dignity – that is, we're denying that human beings have any moral dignity that's essential to who we are, and that can't be taken away. It may seem like a subtle distinction, but I suspect that if we keep saying things like that we'll be throwing something of very real value away.
posted by koeselitz at 10:17 AM on January 10, 2010


koeselitz, I'm a social contract woman at heart, so the human dignity or lack thereof argument doesn't enter as a consideration either way for me. That is, I think it's possible to declare someone is outside the social contract, that they can't live up to their end of the social bargain, without it having to do with them being an animal or inhuman or lacking dignity or whatever. Conversely, being able to live in society within the minimal bounds of that contract, in terms of things like not being a murderer, doesn't exalt you in any way. It's just the basic standard for being part of society.

What I feel on some level would be appropriate for people who can't live inside the law would be to declare them outlaw in a medieval sense, that is, outside the law and society. The problem with that is that the world is full and you can't send people out to the frontier or whatever to work out their problems any more. If someone in your country/state/city commits a string of vicious murders, it's up to that jurisdiction to deal with them, no passing the buck. A flat out argument that no government should have the power to execute ever is one I can understand (and maybe disagree with) but human dignity arguments don't enter into it for me.

There's an argument to be made for executing heinous criminals for their own good, assuming they were crazy/defective somehow and wouldn't want to repeat their crimes if they were sane, and if they ever became sane, would want to die from the shame of their actions. I think Heinlein makes it in one of his juvies (Starship Troopers?). I don't buy that as a reason for executing people myself, but it is a human dignity and well-being-based argument for capital punishment.
posted by immlass at 10:42 AM on January 10, 2010


"The U.S. Supreme Court, in its Furman v.
Georgia (1972) decision, ruled that existing death penalty statutes were
unconstitutional."

and re-affirmed as recently as 2005

I'd buy that for a thousand doll hairs over their subsequent paragraph, and the intellectual basis for their argument, which goes as such...

"At about the same time, however, Gary Becker (1968)—who subsequently
won the Nobel Prize in Economics for his pioneering work on
human capital theory—developed an economic approach to the analysis of
crime and punishment. Becker’s theory emphasized rational choices by
individuals to whom the severity as well as the certainty of punishment
would be salient. This theory gave credibility to the proposition that the
ultimate severe penalty of capital punishment serves as a general deterrent
to homicides."

Then some competing and previous studies are mentioned ... and then;

"What is the outcome of this charge and countercharge exchange? Has
this new round of research and critiques advanced our knowledge, understanding,
and consensus in regard to the question of whether executions
save lives? Hardly."
-
We couldn't agree more! ( which didn't stop the news articles from leading with the news that this article says we need more death penalty in our justice.

and then the original article does this...

The use of annual data series begs the
question
of whether short-term effects of executions on homicides occur.

WEAK.
oh no, they didn't... I should stop there. but I can't;

It is fairly evident from the narrowly selected data points, and the terminology, and the various leaps of reasoning that the authors seem to think it's important to push an agenda (my assumption, and i would only claim correlation, not causation.), the data they show is extremely pigeonpicked (ex. only looking at the 1994 through December 2005 numbers because-
"downward drift in its mean level from slightly less than 200 killings per
month to about 160. This trend was interrupted by an upward turn in the
early 1990s when Texas experienced the wave of murders associated with
the crack-cocaine epidemic that hit the nation as a whole in these years."
-
as if this is not something "should" be in their data. That is what murders are, individual incidents (or extended incidents for serial killer) but they are data points..
What I mean is that the article assumes the Metonymy of Murder (Thinking to define murder, and prevention, and deterrence as the Whole, divided from the constituent parts.)
Meanwhile I think we should look at each point in life as parts of the whole... the Synecdoche of Murder, prevention, deterrence etc., or
They try to ignore the fact that each person is a person, an individual, with motivations, life-histories, and life-experiences which are unique.

Basically, what seems to be important as a take home message here is that...
"Beginning in 1993, however, the series evidences a sustained decline
through the remainder of the decade, which, again, is consistent with
national trends"
(where death penalties weren't even a factor.)


The side of reason, and forward thinking says that this argument for death is surely a side with no grounding in human progress and societal evolution, and actually these arguments are quickly losing the small ammount of support that has historically existed.


Please read some of the pieces in this book of articles here, which document the VARIOUS reasons that injecting more state sanctioned violence against the very people who are involved and integral in the social contract of a national society is not only wrongheaded, but immoral, unsustainable, unethical, base-revenge motivated, and essentially an artifact from a long gone era... an era where I4I was how people thought we were supposed to act... ignoring that when we create violence as a solution as a society... we are encouraging, and promoting the use of violence as a solution in day to day problems...
or kinda similar-like to what I said here...

While it's easy to say that people are uninformed, this is not something that we need to be mathmaticians to actually understand, because while this may be couched in the maths of it all, it comes down to idiology... and while there are often claims that people opposing Death penalties are arguing from a less valid place than things like this article, which throws some math into its political argument...I have rta, and was honestly not impressed, even though I acknowledge that I arrived not willing to change my mind and sanction the murder of fellow humans so that those left behind would be taught behave better... sorry.

But to hazard a reason why people may feel like omg, yea rite, this is obviously bs article amirite? (like my prior post may have seemed.)
Is that the "professionally" written newspaper piece that “summarized” this Summary article completely ignored the subtleties of the actual article (which devoted a lot of space to summarizing some prior research, but made no significant new case for anything, the included references were often targeted selections, meant to argue a political point. Which I would love them to do here or in some other public forum... but to put that behind a huge registration-wall, keeping out society, and to then let an inaccurate "summary" of said research to be put out in a newspaper, with biased, and tricky slants... well that's just junk.)
Why do we bother to have science for the advancement of the public society, if we never get public science?

My problem with the original article is that it is essentially trying to make the case that;
< paraphrasing >
'we don't know if this works as a deterrent or not because almost all the states of the nation stopped committing executions (due to the public not digging them), but we have this economist, and his descendant students who support this idea, because they think people are dissuaded by seeing people killed by the state... and no one has looked at this on a local-monthly basis before, only at a yearly scale... Which we say is THE key to getting the death penalty back in more states, so we have more places to study, so we can get more states to bring back the death penalty, so we can have more states to study, because we think this is true... but there really isn't evidence that show executions dissuade killers... But this point is moot when we understand that it is simply unconstitutional in a modern society...

But by this point the authors are so far past the point of ethics, morality, human compassion, or social contracts... and into finding ways that this theory of "dissuasion by seeing others killed" can be tested, and shown... But they don't show this, they choose a highly narrowed time period, and then take some fuzzy numbers and say SEE!!!, which the news article lapped up.' < /paraphrasing >


I would otherwise feel that the original article was trying to argue from an honest position, but this part just struk me as intellectual concern trolling;
Can the results from the foregoing statistical time-series analyses be
trusted? That is, can our findings of small deterrence effects of executions
on homicides during the 1994–2005 time period be taken as a valid finding
and not as an artifact of the statistical models used to analyze the time
series? Insofar as statistical models for time series are based on assumptions
that may or may not be valid for these particular time series, this
question is salient.

Immlass; I understand that you don't want, but would support a death penalty for those people who "feel so bad about their crimes that they want to die"... would I be right to say that this sounds like delayed suicide by cop which just seems like something we should do everything we can to curb, not encourage.
posted by infinite intimation at 11:12 PM on January 10, 2010


or I could say; its not about how we feel about those we put to death... the issue is what it does to US as a society to put someone to death permanently, by an action sanctioned explicitly by our state, and implicitly by our collective inaction to stop said state.
posted by infinite intimation at 11:25 PM on January 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


ii, since you namechecked me, I should say I don't believe that we should execute people for feeling so bad about their crimes they want to die. I was just commenting that an argument exists that supposedly takes the well-being of the executed prisoner into consideration. For me, that argument suggests people only commit hideous crimes because they're crazy, which is not a definition of crazy I can agree with. So we're in agreement on that point and on "suicide by cop" being a bad thing.

The point I was interested in was social contract theory and the death penalty, which is different and doesn't involve craziness or deterrence or vengeance or how society feels at all.
posted by immlass at 7:46 AM on January 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I suspect that this is flawed analysis. What they're basically admitting is that they correlated murder rate versus executions and tried a number of hypotheses to see what fit.

All Out of Lulz, a bit like global warming? Tree rings? "Hide the decline!"

I can't believe no one favourited pracowity's comment.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 9:55 PM on January 11, 2010


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