Verify: Does the death penalty deter violent crimes?

Does the death penalty deter crime?

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - With the scheduled executions dominating much of the talk in Arkansas, one Conway woman reached out to us and asked us, "Does the death penalty deter crime?" We brought her closer to the answer by introducing her to a criminologist to verify whether capital punishment does or does not decrease violent crime.

Jenny Wallace met us at UA Little Rock where we would begin to help her understand if using capital punishment actually does deter crime.

"I think I believed in the death penalty because everyone around me had that same belief so I kind of just wore those beliefs," Wallace said.

Wallace admitted that she once believed whole heartedly in the death penalty, but changed her mind later in life. While she's not in favor of it, she wants to know if the law has any benefit to society.

We take the elevator five floors up to the Criminal Justice Department at UA Little Rock. From there we head to the office of Doctor Robert Lytle. Wallace asks the question herself as we listen to their conversation.

But, as the conversation went on, we found out that the answer to Wallace's question was more complex than a simple yes or no.

"The answer is; we aren't sure with the research yet," Lytle said.

Lytle clarified, saying that while those charged with the death penalty and then executed can no longer commit crime it's difficult to measure if that is a general deterrent.

"Recent reports from national commissions that have looked into this have come to similar conclusions," he said.

Lytle points to a 2012 by the National Academies of Sciences. They reviewed over 30 years of research on whether capital punishment is a true deterrent of violent crimes.

Their conclusion? The research found that it was hard to determine if capital punishment increased, decreased or had any effect at all on homicide rates.

"The death penalty is certainly severe, but there are a lot of question that come up with how certain it is and how swift it is, how quickly it occurs," Lytle stated.

As for Wallace, she appreciated being able to sit down with Lytle and learning more about the research. She said she came out of the meeting, feeling like her question had been answered.

"I want to be able to see all sides," she said. "I want to be able to understand where people are coming from on the other side of issues."

Americans have reached a conclusion though when it comes to the death penalty. A 2015 Pew Research Center study showed that 61 percent believe that capital punishment does not deter crime, despite no evidence to support or deny that claim.

© 2017 KTHV-TV


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