What We Know About Capital Punishment: How Recent Empirical Evidence From Texas Challenges Criminological Wisdom

Rocky Pilgrim, Boston College
Jonathan Sorensen, Prairie View A&M University

Capital punishment, though prone to heated debate, is one policy issue on which the vast majority of criminologists agree. The ASC resolution against the death penalty was based on social science research that had found it to be "racist in application" and lacking "consistent evidence of a deterrent effect." While most criminologists regard these assertions as solid criminological facts, the empirical research upon which they are based comes from previous eras, either prior to the moratorium or shortly therefatter, but prior to fulll re-implementation of modern systems of capital punishment. It is possible that these and other conventional criminological wisdoms regarding the death penalty (i.e. the imposition of the death penalty is capricious and LWOP is a less costly alternative) are no longer accurate for jurisdictions with fully operational capital punishment systems. In a jurisdiction that routinely executes murderers, the death penalty would arguably be more cost effective and more likely to act as a deterrrent, while less likely to be arbitrary or capricious, than it has been in earlier eras and in jurisdictions still struggling to carry out executions. We test these and other hypotheses related to capital punishment using recent data from Texas, the nation's most active executioner.

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Updated 05/20/2006