Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The Best Deterrent

I read an interesting article in today’s Christian Science Monitor. It was written by Joanna Shepherd, an assistant professor of law at Emory Law School. It addresses the issue of whether capital punishment deters murder. Shepherd claims that well-designed studies establish that capital punishment has both a “brutalizing effect” and a deterrent effect. But, she says, states, like Texas, that execute a high percentage of those they sentence to death deter murder, whereas states, like California, that execute a low percentage of those they sentence to death may increase the murder rate. In other words, in states with high execution percentages, the deterrent effect of many executions outweighs the brutalizing effect of capital punishment, whereas in states with low execution percentages, the brutalizing effect outweighs the deterrent effect. The author goes on to suggest that states like California should execute more people so that “future empirical analysis” can tell us if her hypothesis is true. If it is, we will know that we can deter murder by executing more of those we convict of committing it.

I would like to make a very different suggestion. I would like to suggest that we declare human life sacred and truly begin treating it as such. One way we can do this is by declaring an official and permanent end to killing, in the most cold-blooded way imaginable, those we believe have committed murder. And then let’s see what “future empirical analysis” tells us about the cumulative “deterrent effect” over time of according every human life inviolable respect and compassion.

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