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Study: Death Penalty is Not a Crime Deterrent

June 24, 2009

Helena, MT – Criminology experts from around the world do not believe the death penalty deters crime. New research on the controversial topic also takes aim at previous studies that have suggested a connection between deterrence and the death penalty.

The research should come into play in the next Montana legislative session, when a bill will likely resurface to replace the death penalty with life in prison without parole. Report author Michael Radelet, a professor who chairs the Department of Sociology at the University of Colorado-Boulder, says he compiled the expertise of leading criminologists from around the world to reach his conclusion.

"The empirical research very clearly shows the death penalty is not, never has been, and never can be, a stronger deterrent than long imprisonment."

Earlier this year, the Montana State Senate voted to replace the death penalty with life sentences, although the bill eventually died in a House committee. Since then, several states have decided to do away with the death penalty because of budget concerns.

Radelet has a suggestion for the cost savings in switching to life-in-prison sentences, considering that only 60 percent of murder cases are solved, nationwide.

"What we should do with that money is hire some cold case detectives who could look into some of these old homicides, and try to clear some of them up."

Previous studies have cited a link between the death penalty and lower murder rates, but Radelet claims they are flawed. His research is summarized in an article - "Do Executions Lower Homicide Rates?" - in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, a publication of the Northwestern University School of Law.

Deb Courson, Public News Service - MT