Although there are only a small handful of executions per annum, the death penalty remains a hot-button issue, even with decreasing support. Today, I don't want to get into how many innocent people die on Death Row, ethical qualms with capital punishment, or how your "typical conservative" advocates for the death penalty while claiming to be pro-life or wanting less government in our lives. What I simply want to ask is whether the institution of the death penalty acts as a deterrent for people committing more crimes or not.
It's obvious that deterrence involves the discouragement of a certain act. In this case, one of the goals of the death penalty is to discourage crime, specifically murder. The question here is "Who are we trying to deter?" Are we only trying to deter those who have previously murdered and are currently imprisoned? If so, then the death penalty is very effective as a deterrent. After all, dead men can't commit more acts of murder.
If we are trying to deter society as a whole, then that is a different story all together. In an American context, if I had to guess why the death penalty would not be effective, it would be because it is so infrequently and arbitrarily implemented. Also, with most capital crimes such as these, either the murder was in the heat in the moment or the murderer is so depraved and callous towards human life that nothing will deter the individual.
Any conducted studies that have allegedly found correlation never considered the possibility of noncapital punishment effects on homicide rates. In a 2012 report by the Committee on Deterrence and the Death Penalty, the main finding was that there was no proven deterrent effect that was unique to the death penalty (p. 29). The vast majority of criminologists have also found that the death penalty does not create any additional deterrence that life in prison would create (Radelet and Lacock, 2009).
I have major apprehensions giving the government power over life and death itself. Even if I were going to analyze the death penalty based on consequentialist terms, you better believe that I would like some evidence that the death penalty actually works. This is all the more so true when we are talking about the government curtailing personal liberty. The only thing that we know about the death penalty are its liabilities, not its benefits (Lamperti, 2010). I also have to wonder why one would even use deterrence as a primary argument for the death penalty. If deterrence were a factor, why not televise it so everyone can see it? How about making it long and excruciating as possible so it scares would-be criminals? Why not apply it to other crimes? Not only is the evidence of deterrence lacking, but even if the evidence existed, it would hardly make the death penalty a justifiable practice. There are certainly better alternatives for deterring crime.