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Effectiveness of the Death Penalty in the 20th and 21st Centuries

Info: 9693 words (39 pages) Dissertation
Published: 29th Sep 2021

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Tagged: Criminology

This piece of work will be widely studying capital punishment. More specifically It will be critically analysing the death penalty’s ability to deter criminal from committing crimes. It will be researching different geographical locations and critically analyzing their differences and similarities. It will also be exploring the definitions and aims of the deterrence theory in relation to capital punishment. To write with piece of work I have been conducting a wide scale data collection and content analysis in my research, including many graphs and statistics extracted from international reports.


Chapter 1: Introduction, Methodology and Literature Review

Chapter 2: The Deterrence Theory

Chapter 3: The United Kingdom

Chapter 4: The United States of America

Chapter 5: China & Japan

Chapter 6: Statistical Analysis

Chapter 7: Key Discussions



List of Figures

Figure 1 - A graph showing the murder and manslaughter rates in the UK 1954-1974 data extracted from: (https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/historical-crime-data). 

Figure 2 - A table of statistics showing the total recorded crime, included attempted murders and homicides from 1954-1974. Data extracted from: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/historical-crime-data.

 Figure 3 - A graph showing the number of State executions compared to suicides of murder suspects in England and Wales. (Table extracted from Cameron 2001) 

Figure 4 - A table of result comparing the murder rates in death penalty and non-death penalty states in USA (Death Penalty Information Center 2017). 

Figure 5 - A horizontal bar chart showing the murder rate per 100,000 people in each state of the USA from 1987-2015 (Death Penalty Information Center 2017). 

Figure 6 - A graph showing the homicide rates in Hong Kong before and after the abolition of the death penalty from 1967-2007 (Zimring, Fagan & Johnson 2010). 

Figure 7 - A graph showing the Number of official executions in Japan from 1993-2017(data extracted Amnesty International September 2009). 

Figure 8 - A graph showing the number of death row inmates executed each year from 1993-2017(data Extracted from the United States Census Bureau 2018). 

Figure 9 - A chart demonstrating the results of a poll which asked police chiefs in America what interferes with effective law enforcement (Extracted from deathpenaltyinfo.org).


The controversial debate over the legitimacy or propriety of the death penalty may be almost as old as the death penalty itself and, in the view of the popular opinion and ever rising trend towards its complete abolition, perhaps it is outdated. For this Piece of work, I will be widely studying capital punishment. More specifically I will be critically analyzing its ability to deter criminal from committing crimes. I will be researching different geographical locations and critically analyzing differences in them. Finally, I will be considering whether capital punishment was abolished in the majority of countries due to its ineffectiveness as a deterrent or its barbaric nature. Throughout this piece of work, I will be inputting an equal balance of arguments suggesting the death penalty is and isn’t an effective deterrent. I will then be comparing statistics from execution polls and crime rates. I use this data to search for any causal link between the death penalty and serious crimes committed. I will be primarily basing my research in the UK, the US and Eastern territories such as China and Japan, to see if there is any sort of correlation between them. My hypothesis is that in first world civilizations, due to independence being encouraged in society, there will be more statistical evidence for a lack of effectiveness, than second world countries, where there will be more support for the death penalty, and more statistical evidence to prove its effectiveness.

Firstly, ‘Capital punishment’ also known as the death penalty, refers to the governing body to sentence a suspected guilty criminal to death. The death penalty can be seen throughout the ages dating as far back as the Eighteenth-Century B.C where it can be seen in King Hammurabi of Babylon code, over 25 crimes were punishable by death. The death penalty was also seen in the Hittite Code, the Draconian Code of Athens and even in Roman Law of the Twelve Tablets, with methods of execution being as horrifying as impalement, beating to death, burning alive and drowning(L.Randa 1997).

The death penalty has been enforced through the ages for its effect to deter people committing the same offences/crimes that the executed individual had, the method of making an example of a criminal to strike fear into the public’s heart.


I have been conducting a wide scale data collection and content analysis in my research, including a brief meta-analysis to solidify the data I have been using. Furthermore, it would have been a waste of resources for me to conduct my own research as I am conducting this piece of work on a historical debate of which plenty of researches have been complete.

As a primary research method wasn’t conducted for my work, the majority of my statistics, graphs and tables used are from academic pieces of work, official government documents, or I have extracted and shaped the information from these reliable sources to shape my own graphs, for example Figure 1’s statistics were found at  “Historical Crime Data” by Gov.uk.(gov.uk. 2016).

The process of researching across several different platforms including books, websites, journals, newspapers and so on, has led to a wide range of evidence for each point made in this piece of work.

Literature review

In this critical analysis of the effectiveness of Capital punishment in different countries I will be using a large range of literatures. The primary literatures I will be using for my for in-effective argument is Cameron, S’s 2001, ‘Self-Execution, Capital Punishment, and the Economics of Murder: Analysis of U.K.Statistics Suggests that Suicide by Murder Suspects is Not Influenced by the Probability of Execution’. This literature includes many arguments against the effectiveness of execution and also provides statistics to solidate their point. This literature also speaks of the suicides committed by victims of whom were pending trial or execution and mentions how this takes away from the main deterrent of the death penalty, retribution. This has been an incredibly helpful literature to stumble across as it weighs in one my topic nicely and is an interesting read.

Another Primary literature I will be using will be Radelet, M’s & Lacock, T’s “Do executions lower homicide rates?; the views of leading criminologists. In this resource the author makes many points to illustrate why the death penalty isn’t and is an effective deterrent, for example it states that according to US statistics half of all murders are not committed through the process of rational thought but instead while under the influence of drugs or during an argument. It also involves the opinions of many criminologists and offers a wide variety of helpful points towards my research.

I used Beccaria’s “On crimes and punishments” (1963) to help me develop my understanding surrounding the deterrence theory and how even the most quintessential criminal justice system still has its flaws, for example, if the offenders motive or resolve is strong enough to justify giving their own life to end another, the fabled effect of deterrence falls upon deaf ears. This piece of work was an incredibly interesting read as it argues for both sides of capital punishment and leads to a fair unbiased piece of work.

I heavily used “Jiang, S., Pilot, R. and Saito, T., 2010. Why Japanese support the death penalty?” to surround my arguments for the effectiveness in Japan, as in this piece of work, the authors widely study the opinions of the death penalty and whether it is an effective deterrent.

The final primary literature I used in my research is Ehrlich I’s “The Deterrent Effect of Capital Punishment: A Question of Life and Death”. In this piece of work Ehrlich speaks of the effectiveness of the death penalty and uses many valid points demonstrate his research, Including the argument of the all important regression theory. Ehrlich mostly defends the use of the death penalty and argues it is an effective deterrent, then proceeds  to mention why using his own study and statistics.

All of the authors I have used for my work are highly renowned in their field and have studied similar subjects for many years, as well as demonstrating validity and reliability in their work, thought showing credibility, transferability, dependability and confirmability( Loh, J. 2013).

Definitions and what is implied by the “Deterrence Theory”

In the field of criminology, the deterrence theory refers to the theory that potential criminals and other individuals in society are deterred away from committing a crime out of fear of the retribution and punishment that would be exchanged in equivalence for their crimes. Furthermore, criminals of whom have committed a crime would be deterred from becoming a repeat offender after having endured a sample of the punishment given (LegalDictionary.com).

Furthermore, deterrence is the primary focus of criminal law, with a key scope on breaking the cycle of criminal activity. In theory, the most powerful deterrent would be an impeccable criminal justice system that guaranteed with certainty that all individuals who broke the law would be apprehended, convicted, and punished, and would receive no personal benefit from their wrongdoing, However something so effective and perfect is a distant dream and highly unlikely. The deterrence theory three relies on three individual components: severity, certainty, and celerity (Beccaria 1963).

The Deterrence theory is an incredibly validated theory seen throughout history, and it makes sense that the harsher the punishment the more fear in the criminal’s heart of which would lead to hesitation and perhaps a complete stop to committing a crime. With that being said, the deterrence theory is built on several assumptions. The first assumption is that members of society know what the penalties for the crimes are. The second assumption is that humans are rational beings that have will and control over their actions and the third and final assumption is that they consider and think things through. All of the presumptions must be present in order for the deterrence theory to work.

The deterrence theory suggests in the scenario that before someone commits a murder they, they sit in their kitchen, with a cup of tea, contemplating if they should commit murder and decide not to because they don’t want to face the death penalty. This however is extremely rarely the case, furthermore if someone had wronged them to a point where they didn’t care about their own life anymore, they would still decide to go through with the murder.

The deterrence theory also implies that an increase in the severity of punishment reduces dangerous behavior. This theory indicates that If execution is the most severe punishment, it will be the greatest deterrent (Wolpin 1978).

The closer the application of punishment is to the commission of the offence, the greater the likelihood that offenders will realize that their crime is not worth it. Executions were once held in public and family members were encouraged to attend so that they could see what happened to those who broke the law. Today, some advocates call for televised executions as a way of deterring murder(DiIulio 1959).

It is too broad a question to ask if a criminal justice system is effective due to its ability to act as a deterrent; instead a better question to ask is, does the past employment of capital punishment demonstrate deterrence?  Even the most effective and brutal criminal justice system may have limits in its deterrence effect, due to the possibility that the benefit overcomes the costs of losing their own life. This includes circumstances where one’s resolve and motive are even stronger than the fear of one’s own death.

The United Kingdom

In the UK, Sir Samuel Romilly when speaking to the House of Commons on capital punishment in 1810 declared that

“there is no country on the face of the earth in which there have been so many different offences according to law to be punished with death as in England” (House of Commons 1810).

The reason for this statement was that during this period the UK was in the midst of the Bloody code. The Bloody code allowed 220 crimes to be punishable from server crimes such as Murder or as little crimes as being in the company of a gypsy for more than a month (Gatrell, V. A. C 1994).  During the bloody code using the death penalty as a deterrent was the core theme, they did so by adding a factor of shame by saying “in no case whatsoever shall the body of any murderer be suffered to be buried” (Woods, 2002) referring to the punishments after death to the body itself. These punishments were either public dissection or “hanging in chains” of the guilty. In London, the execution dock is located on the north bank of the River Thames in Wapping; after tidal immersion, particularly notorious criminals’ bodies could be hung in cages a little farther downstream at either Cuckold’s Point or Blackwall Point, as a warning to other waterborne criminals of the possible consequences of their actions, such a fate befell Captain William Kidd in May in 1701 (Hartshorne, 1893). In the UK the death penalty came to be abolished in 1969 for most crimes. The Murder Act 1965 suspended the death penalty in Great Britain for five years and substituted a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment; before the expiry of the five-year suspension, each House of Parliament passed a resolution to make the effect of the Act permanent. In 1969 the Home Secretary proposed a motion to make the Act permanent, which was carried out in the House of Commons on 16 December 1969 and in the house of Lords on 18 December 1969 (Hansard 1969). Prior to this, the death sentence for pregnant women was abolished in 1931. In 1998 the British government formally abolishing the death penalty in the UK as It had been still technically available for treason and piracy up to 1998.

Although unused, the death penalty actually still remained a legally defined punishment for certain offences such as treason until it was completely abolished in 1998 (Hoffman & Rowe 2010). In 2004 the 13th Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights became binding on the United Kingdom, prohibiting the restoration of the death penalty for as long as the UK is a party to the Convention. As the United Kingdom are leaving the European Union and will no longer be bound by their prohibitions surrounding the death penalty, I thought this area of study would be a brilliant topic to research, in order to present the previous strengths or lack of strengths surrounding the death penalty.

During the ago of the Bloody code, a large deal was made of hangings. They were held in public, and thousands turned out to watch, children would take the day off school, especially in London, where the offenders would be drawn through the streets in carts over several miles from Newgate Prison, through the heart of the city to Tyburn, before being hanged (Raleigh 1912). The intention of this grotesque act was clear, it was to make the executions act as a strong deterrent in order to make others observe the law, however its effectiveness is questioned by many criminologists. The arguments surrounding the effectiveness of the death penalty in the UK are greatly Controversial. The economic argument surrounding how much a life sentence costs the government is an influential point for those in favour of the death penalty. As it stands in the most recent report by the Ministry of Justice 2016, it currently costs £58,428 a year for a “male dispersal” referring to dangerous prisoners such as those who would be receiving the death penalty if it was still enforced (Ministry of Justice 2016). Using that information, and combining it with the fact a minimum of 15 years  will be spent in prison for a life sentence, it currently  costs £876 420 per prisoner to keep an individual in prison. There are currently 7,247 prisoners serving a life sentence in the United Kingdom, bringing the current yearly cost of life sentenced prisoners to £423.4 million (Ministry of justice 2017). This is a large chunk on spending which many people believe the Government could be spending elsewhere.

It has been argued that on the average, homicides decrease by 35.7% immediately following a publicized execution,  the more publicity devoted to the execution, the more homicides decrease thereafter (Phillips 1980). This decrease occurs because capital punishment has an apparent short-term deterrent effect on homicides. Hobbes, Beccaria and Bentham  found that people are more likely to be dissuaded from committing crime if the punishment is swift, certain and severe (Boyd, N.2016). Furthermore, Hagg (1969) claims that even though the death penalties  effectiveness seems obvious, punishment as a deterrent has fallen into disrepute.

It can be seen that the rates for unlawful killings in Britain have increased by more the 100% since abolition of capital punishment in 1964 from 0.68 per 100,000 of the population to 1 .42 per 100,000 (capital punishment UK 2016). With this information it can be fairly assumed that the death penalty was in fact deterring people from committing unlawful murder, however there are other factors at play.

“A punishment to be just should have only that degree of severity which is sufficient to deter others.” (Beccaria (1761.), p. 117).

Many people claim the death penalty in the UK was not an effective deterrent, this is for many reasons. Firstly, because statistically speaking there is no concrete evidence and that the rise of crimes on a whole after the abolishment of the death penalty is caused by the abolishment of the death penalty and not the ever-increasing rate of population. It is argued that the death penalty is the worst punishment society can inflict upon one of its members, as it lacks effectiveness as a deterrent and is overwhelmingly torturous and cruel( Lulliano (2015).)

According to the foreign and commonwealth office, in HMG strategy for abolition of the death penalty 2010-2015 (2011), the Human Rights and Democracy Department states” Promoting human rights and democracy is a priority for the UK. It is the longstanding policy of the UK to oppose the death penalty in all circumstances as a matter of principle.”

The United States of America

In the US, Capital punishment or ‘The death penalty’ Refers to being sentenced to execution by the state after being convicted guilty of committing a serious or capital offence. A few examples of  capital offences are murder, rape and treason (UsLegal 2016). This type of punishment was first recorded in the New Colonies in 1608 when Captain George Kendall becomes the first recorded execution by hanging for committing several counts of murder(L.Randa 1997). Since the first recorded offence, the execution count was steadily rising by roughly 150% each 50 years until 1850. From 1850-1972 the amount of recorded executions in America was roughly 12000, which is a 1100% increase from the recorded executions in 1799-1850(M.Espy J Smylka’s 2002).

Executions were incredibly popular and frequent during the first half of the twentieth century. The most executions committed in one single decade was the 1930’s with an average of 167 a year, and although the use of executions declined after that, the average was still 130 a year in 1940’s and 75 a year during the 1950’s. When utilizing these statistics and comparing them to the decade starting with 1990 which had an average of 45 Executions a year, positive progress is being made in the decline of executions sentenced by the state. Also, Over 65% of the American public approved of the death penalty during these decades(Paternoster (1991). The United State of America (USA) is fundamentally the broadest case of resources for effectiveness of capital punishment as it is still a method of justice employed by a large portion of states. These states such as Texas, Missouri, Washington, Florida, Arizona and many more are just a few examples. Previous to renowned economist Ehrlich’s 1975 and 1977 studies there were no reports of significant effects as a deterrent, however Ehrlich reports a substantial deterrent effect by applying the regression analysis to U.S. aggregate data for 1933–69 and state‐level data for 1940 and 1950(Ehrlich 1975). Nobel laureate Gary S. Becker’s seminal 1968 on the study of the economics of crime assumed that individuals respond to the costs and benefits of committing crime supporting the research of Ehrlich.

Gary S. Becker supports the research of Ehrlich in a study about the economics of crime. In this study, Becker assumes that individuals analyse and react to the costs and benefits of committing crime. He states criminals will maximize their own assets, subject to financial or other restraints that they may face in their life(Stephen K. Layson 1985). This contributes to the idea of the death penalty is an effective deterrence. This study however only works if every potential criminal considers the consequences rationally. If potential criminals do put thought into their crime first, this acts as deterrence to, discouraging them to commit a crime. In terms of effectivity, it is economically effective to use the money that would be used to imprison an individual, to instead contribute that money towards improving society. However, it also indicated that increased rates of arrest and conviction had a more powerful effect on deterring homicide, and that socioeconomic factors were as influential as executions on murders committed.

It is boldly stated by Sheperd that “executions provide a large benefit to society by deterring murders…” (Dezhbakhsh & Shepard 2007). In Shepard and Dezhbakhshs’ (2007) research, they compared the murder rate for each state before and after it suspended or reinstated the death penalty. They then used the regression results to construct a frequency distribution for the three main deterrent estimates, corresponding to executions, lagged executions, and moratorium came to their conclusion. The results of this study are especially pertinent because several states are currently considering changing their position on capital punishment. For example, the governor of Massachusetts has recently sought to reinstate the death penalty. With that in mind the results have demonstrated evidence for the deterrent effect of capital punishment, however have also show that even though executions provide a large benefit to society by deterring murders, they also have costs. These include the harm from the death penalty’s possibly discriminatory application and the risk of executing innocent people(Dezhbakhsh & Shepard 2007).  However it was found that In the early 1980s, a drop in the number of murders was related to the return of the death penalty. In the mid-to-late 1980s, when the number of executions stabilized at about 20 per year, the number of murders increased. Throughout the 1990s, America increased the number of executions, and the number of murders plummeted, which suggests a causal link.

Research by Ehrlich(1975)discovered that there was a strong deterrence effect surrounding the death penalty. In his empirical research, utilizing a form of models and calculations, resulted in the correlation that an increase in the probability or severity of many punishment, lead to a decrease in murder. Additional research reconfirmed his original findings, which was also supported by Professor Stephen K. Layson, who strongly reconfirmed Ehrlich’s findings(Muhlhausen,D 2007). This demonstrates that the evidence of the death penalty being a strong deterrent towards criminals is highly reliable due to its great consistency. Ekelund, Jr.(2006) states that having analyzed the effect that executions have on single incidents of murder and multiple incidents of murder, they came to find that executions reduced single murder rates, proving that in fact we were right decades ago believing that the death penalty did in fact deter murders.  Ehrlich(1975) also created a visual aid in the form of a formula which read as follows:


Pa Demonstrates the probability of the event of apprehension, Pca demonstrates the conditional probability of conviction of murder while Pec demonstrates the probability of execution or other punishment.

The general public in the United States are overwhelmingly concerned about the possibility of the execution of innocent people. According to the Death Penalty Information Center (2009), in the United States, “139 people in 26 states have been released from death row with evidence of their innocence since 1973.” This rate was based on a yearly average of 3.1 exonerations from 1973 to 1999 and of 5.00 exonerations from 2000 to 2007. These statistics are believed to lead more people into supporting suspended sentenced and opposing the death penalty, this is because as once an individual is subject to the death penalty there is no way to undo the damage if found innocent(Unnever & Cullen, 2005, p. 7). In the United States, females are believed to be more concerned with sentencing innocent persons to capital punishment (Whitehead & Blankenship, 2000). Also, females are lower in authoritarianism and political conservatism (Stack, 2000).

An assumption for the crime prevalence-capital punishment relationship is that when fear of crime is high or when the crime rate is increasing, people are more likely to support the death penalty. An association between the crime rate/fear of crime and support for the death penalty would suggest why some state support the death penalty(Lambert et al., 2004)


In China, Capital punishment is still a prominent legal penalty. It is mostly enforced for murder and drug trafficking, and executions are carried out by lethal injection or gunshot(National People’s Congress of China 2012). The estimated number of executions was 2,400 in 2013 however the exact number of death sentences is a state secret(Nikkei Asian Review 2015). In 2004 Chinese media published an unofficial report finding that the courts of China sentenced roughly 10,000 people to death every year in China, not including people who were sentenced to death with a suspended two-year sentence before the year 2004(Duigu 2013). Capital punishment was one of the classical Five Punishments of China’s dynastic period(Chi-Yu 1949). In Chinese philosophy, capital punishment was supported by the Legalists, but its application was tempered by the Confucianists, who preferred rehabilitation and mercy over capital punishment. Confucius did not completely oppose capital punishment, but argued that through specific means, perhaps it wouldn’t be necessary in Chinese society. The Chinese criminal law is based on Confucian humanism, the orthodox Confucianists consider humans are by nature good, so that all men could be sages. They think the people can all receive education, become gentlemen, act virtuously, so that there is no need of punishment nor room for criminal law(Chi-Yu 1949). Recently however, china has adopted the application of judicial discretion in the form of ‘suspended’ death sentences. Largely through this step of change, reform moves since 2007 have institutionalized greater leniency in death penalty decision making in lower courts and consequently a striking drop in death penalty sentencing nationwide(Trevaskes 2013). Furthermore, in 2016, China announced that it was cutting back on the list of crimes that could receive the death penalty, the first time it has done so since 1979, so progress is being made. In Article 48 of the criminal law (1997) in China, as part of the “Strike hard” policy, China stated it only executes individuals found guilty of “extremely serious offences”(Trevaskes, S., 2008.). In 2006 however, a metaphorical trojan horse of policies was introduced named “balancing leniency and severity” using the aspect of balance to combat the overzealous use of the death penalty. This policy was introduced by SPC chief of justice Xiao Yang(Trevaskes, S., 2008.).


Japan is one of the couple major industrialized democracies that still enforce capital punishment legally. In Japan, the death penalty is also still enforced however is solely used for cases of multiple murders or cases of single murders in unique circumstance(Schmidt 2002). The life of a condemned prisoner in Japan has been described as “highly restricted” and consists of a daily regime of less than humane treatment(Dean, 1994). Retribution is a widely suggested reason in Japan to support capital punishment. The death penalty is founded by Japanese traditional widespread folk beliefs such as “the soul of a murdered person cannot rest until the murderer is put to death” (Lane, 2005b, p. 71). Tomoko Sasaki, a former member of the Japanese parliament and a former prosecutor says “If someone evil does something bad, he has to atone with his own life. If you take a life, you have to give your own” (Lane, 2005a). Japanese polls demonstrate that the number one reason for supporting capital punishment among Japanese citizens is deterrence, and the r results from these polls have been repeatedly used by Japanese government for defending its stand on the death penalty (Schmidt, 2002).

In Japan, to execute an individual nine different parts of each case must be reviewed, these are as follows; The nine criteria are as follows:

  1. The Motive
  2. The Degree of viciousness used
  3. How the crime was committed; specifically, way the murder was committed.
  4. Outcome of the crime(number of victims).
  5. Sentiments of the bereaved family members.
  6. Degree of remorse shown by the defendant
  7. Impact of the crime on Japanese society.
  8. Age of defendant.
  9. Previous criminal record.

Using this nine-pillar prosecution system, it is clear to see that great thought and meticulous planning has gone into the use of capital punishment in Japan(Johnson 2006). The justification of taking a life is based on the principle of lex talionis, “an eye for an eye”, In layman terms, if a person takes a life, then he or she must sacrifice his or her own life (Lambert et;al, 2004). The data is sparse, there appears to be at least two prominent Japanese groups in which support for capital punishment is weaker than in the public at large, these are lawyers and politicians. At the national level, 122 members of parliament have joined a group motivated to abolish the death penalty, and its leaders predict the number will ‘soon total 200’( Johnson 2006).  At the local level, several city councils (including those in Kiyose, Takatsuki, Sennan, and Niiza) have submitted petitions to the Japanese government appealing for an abolition of the death penalty (Domikova-Hashimoto 1996). An early study of a national, representative sample by Alston (1976) reveals that 17 of Japanese males favored abolition of capital punishment, whereas 74 did not favor it, compared to 15% and 67% for females, respectively. in 2006, there was a dangerously drastic increase in the prison population and compared to just 10 years ago in 1996, support for capital punishment in Japan was more than 80% (Hamai & Ellis, 2008).  Although throughout the other countries mentioned the death penalty is a controversial topic, in japan former Minister of Justice Hideo Usui is adamant that the death penalty is “simply not a social issue”  (Struck, 2001). Furthermore, the main foundation for enforcing the death penalty in Japan is that according to statistics, majority of citizens want to preserve the death penalty(Kikuta, 1999). The statistical accuracy of this statement is analysed in the statistics section below.


Using statistics seen in the recorded crime data from 1898 to 2001/02(gov.uk 2015), you can see that from the years of 1954-1964 (the ten years before abolishing the death penalty) it can be seen that the mean count for murders committed is 321 a year. If you take this and compare it to the ten years after the death penalty is abolished, the mean number of murders committed skyrockets to 482 a year. It is obvious that these statistics suggest a link between the abolishment of the death penalty and an increase in “capital crimes” in the UK. The graph also shows a decrease in crime in 1968, the year before the temporary suspension of the death penalty was due to end. This could be because of the fear of being sentences to death once the death penalty has returned(See figure 1).

Figure 1 A graph showing the murder and manslaughter rates in the UK 1954-1974 data extracted from: (https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/historical-crime-data).

By looking at the same table of results It can also be seen that after 1965, after the abolition of the death penalty, the total amount of crimes committed ten years after 1964 increase by 895397 from the year the death penalty was abolished. This suggests that whilst the death penalty was in place it was deterring people from committing crime. It can also be seen that in general there is a rocketing increase in crimes being committed, especially attempted murders(see Figure 2).

Figure 2 A table of statistics showing the total recorded crime, included attempted murders and homicides from 1954-1974. Data extracted from: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/historical-crime-data.


This shows the possibility of a correlation between the abolition of the death penalty and the increase in crime. In Texas(one of the states with the death penalty still enforced)

The main theme of capital punishment is for the guilty offender to have their life taken from them, not optionally taken themselves, if this theme is removed the death penalty loses its morality(Carol S). Statistically speaking, Self-execution was massively on the rise when faced with the prospect of public execution. This is because when faced with the probable painful suffering of hanging at Tyburn or being placed in a gibbet near the docks, the easier less painful method of self-execution is logically preferred. The statistics supporting this can be seen in Figure 3.

Figure 3. A graph showing the number of State executions compared to suicides of murder suspects in England and Wales. (Table extracted from Cameron 2001)

This Graph demonstrates the self-executions massively outnumber state executions, statistically speaking, the ratio of public executions to self-executions is 3.27(Cameron,s).

This takes away from the core reasoning surrounding the death penalty of which is retribution. These arguments can be seen to blunt the blade of public executions effectiveness as it is said “No case for the death penalty can be made unless “doing justice,” or “deterring others,”(Hagg 1969). These arguments are those that attempt to take away from the initial effectiveness of the death penalty in the UK(DPIC 2016).

Two studies have published confirming the deterrent effect of capital punishment by Professors H. Naci Mocan and R. Kaj Gittings of the University of Colorado at Denver. The first study uses state-level data to analyze the influence of executions, commutations, and removals from death row on the cases of murders from 1977 to 1997. For each additional execution, on average, about five murders were deterred(Mocan and Gittings 2003).

Figure 4 A table of result comparing the murder rates in death penalty and non-death penalty states in USA (Death Penalty Information Center 2017).

As seen in figure 4 above, murder rates in America between 1990 and 2016 have been accurately recorded, and with a column to visualize the percentage difference each year between states the death penalty is used and states the death penalty isn’t used. As you can see, in the early 1990’s the difference in percentages was low at just 4%. This could be due to a more balanced amount of states with the death penalty enforced and states without it on either side. As time progresses, more states have abolished the death penalty which might be one of the reasons for the huge differences.  You can see that the murder rate in death penalty states is permanently higher than that of non-death penalty states with the exception of 2011. There is a possibility that this is due to the desensitizing of death or execution to the public because they see or hear about their own government carry out throughout the year(Dpic 2017).

Figure 5. A horizontal bar chart showing the murder rate per 100,000 people in each state of the USA from 1987-2015 (Death Penalty Information Center 2017).

This graph demonstrates the murder rate per 100,000 people through the past couple of decades and attempts to more obviously visualize the difference between death penalty states and non-death penalty states. In this graph, states with the death penalty are seen in yellow, states without the death penalty are blue and transitional states are green. Transitional states refer to the states in USA that are currently in the middle of the abolition process for the death penalty, they are in transition from a death penalty state, to a non-death penalty state. In figure 5 It can be seen instantly that the majority of the low murder rate states are the states that do not implement the death penalty whereas states that still use the death penalty have drastically higher murder rates. This shows that the death penalty is potentially a double-edged sword and has the opposite effect causes more people to commit murder in places such as Louisiana, while also being a useful deterrent in other places such as New Hampshire.

In countries such as Hong Kong, homicide rates are seen to drop as the death penalty is abolished.

Figure 6. A graph showing the homicide rates in Hong Kong before and after the abolition of the death penalty from 1967-2007 (Zimring, Fagan & Johnson 2010). The X axis is based per 100,00 people.

This suggests that due to a mutual agreement between the government and its people that the death penalty was barbaric, less people committed serious crimes in order to ensure its permanent abolition. It is more likely however that due to the success of the abolition of the death penalty in the UK, Hong Kong followed the abolition movement(Hong Kong Correctional Services).

On this graph you can see the general trend of homicide rates decreasing after the abolition of the death penalty which suggests its ability as a deterrent was rather ineffective.

Figure 7 A graph showing the Number of official executions in Japan from 1993-2017(data extracted Amnesty International September 2009).

In figure 7 you can see the number of people executed in Japan, from 1993-2017. In this graph it can be seen that in the year 2008, the number of executions shot up. It is also known that Japan’s economy fell into recession in 2008. I believe there is a correlation and as the recession hit, more people turned to crime to make money, with lead to more people being prosecuted and eventually more executions.

Figure 8 A graph showing the number of death row inmates executed each year from 1993-2017(data Extracted from the United States Census Bureau 2018).

As seen on the graph above, the execution rate in America was steadily riding until 1999, where more state because to condemn the use of the death penalty, after that point the was a rapid decrease, which then slows to a steady decrease. However, in 2009 there was another sharp increase before beginning to decrease once more.

Figure 9 A chart demonstrating the results of a poll which asked police chiefs in America what interferes with effective law enforcement(Extracted from deathpenaltyinfo.org)


As seen in figure 9, In 2008, a poll of 500 police chiefs in the United States was conducted, to find what the people who deal with crime the most feel interferes with effective law enforcement the most. Police chiefs ranked a lack of law enforcement resources first, followed by many other controversial points before placing the insufficient use of the death penalty last. This shows that the death penalty is thought of as an outdated method of murder prevention by the majority of police chiefs in the United States. This means that as individual who have access to all records of statistics, perhaps the death penalty isn’t an effect form of punishment.


The first major trend I will be discussing is the worldwide decrease in executions. In China the Dui Hua Foundation published a report in 2014 revealing that they estimated China executed as many as 12,000 people in 2002, 8000 people in 2005, 6500 people in 2007, 4000 people in 2012 and 3000 people in 2013(DeathPenaltyWorldwide 2014). When compared to the execution rates in Japan or USA in Figures 8 and 7, China’s execution rates are substantially higher.  Although even China’s execution rates have been plummeting each year, the amount of crimes committed is reportedly estimated to be roughly the same, showing no deterrent effect from execution(National Research Council 2012).

The second trend visible in all of the relatable graphs is that, the murder rates in every country has risen throughout the twentieth century. This is most likely due to the massive increase in population.  However, in second world countries such as Hong Kong, the death penalty brings a decrease in murders committed(See figure 5). Also, in Figure 7 it shows the execution rate in Japan is reasonably low, when not factoring in the anomaly’s, this is suggestively due to the deterrence of the death penalty. In the USA (see figure 8), the execution rate has always been substantially higher in the USA, however this is arguable due to the larger population. In 1993 the USA’s population was 260 million whereas Japan’s was 125 million, meaning USA was roughly 165 million larger than Japan(World Bank 2018). Using this statistic, if we were to hypothetically half the USA’s population to 130 million and half its execution rates at the same time, the USA would still have 18 executions whereas Japan executed 7, over double the executions. This shows that the USA either have a lot more criminals than japan or are a lot less meticulous in planning before sentencing a criminal to death. In term of deterrence effect,  It has been reported by prisoners that with capital punishment as a possible punishment, half of a group of individuals arrested for robbery stated that they had decided not to carry or not use weapons in their “work” to avoid any risk of an accidental killing which could lead to their own execution(M. W. Espy Jr 1980). Also, in America, It is recorded that 88% of the nation’s leading criminologists do not believe the death penalty is an effective deterrent to crime(Lacock and Radelet 2009).


In this piece of work, we have discussed the definitions and aims of the deterrence theory in relation to capital punishment. We can conclude throughout this essay that there is no way to definitively decide whether the death penalty worldwide is or is not an effective deterrent. It can be seen that in first world countries such as England and the U.S, the death penalty is slowly being completely abolished, as statistics indicate it doesn’t help prevent crime. In second world countries however such as China, the death penalty is still being enforced as it is fundamentally a tradition to the people of the country and the public don’t disagree with it as much as the first world populations do. It has however, been recorded that the death penalty can deter criminals from carrying weapons while conducting their’ work ‘and does provide some deterring effects, however whether these effects justify ending a life to provide them, it is morally questionable. Japan lacks published scientific research on the deterrence effect of capital punishment due to the impenetrable secrecy surrounding the death penalty, meaning, the Japanese population may not be aware of the possible lack of effect.

In China, they can be seen to be the most ruthless enforcer of the death penalty, with no concrete statistical evidence published to argue for or against it, however using estimates from organizations such as Dui Hai, it is possible to get a grasp on the calamities going on. Furthermore, as estimated by the National Research Council in 2012, regardless of higher or lower execution rates, crime rates, including murder and manslaughter are sticking to the same rough mean.

The recent studies which employ a panel data technique have confirmed what can be considered by some as common-sense decades ago, capital punishment does, in fact, deter crime and save lives. In the United States of America, each additional execution appears to deter between three and 18 murders(Ekelund et; al 2006).

This piece of work has some limitations, firstly due to the secrecy of the statistics surrounding Japan and China, it was difficult to show any substantial statistics.  Also, as my own primary research was not conducted I had to rely on other statistics. A major downfall of the statistical research conducted by other academics is that all the results are based on a premise of correlation, and due to this it is not possible to definitively imply a causation and hence not possible to definitively conclude that the death penalty causes higher murder rate. With that in mind, the piece of work has many strengths such as a wide panel of resources and references. In this piece of work I have also analyzed and contrast the information from each country to demonstrate a worldwide understanding on the effectiveness of deterrence and the death penalty. Finally, a quote by Professor Mocan:

“Science does really draw a conclusion. It did. There is no question about it [The death penalty] . . . . The conclusion is there is a deterrent effect.”

(Robert Tanner 2007)


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