Auburn University Montgomery Death Penalty and Crime Deterrence Discussion
I’m working on a public health discussion question and need an explanation to help me learn.
The death penalty has been used as a penalty for severe crimes since the beginning of recorded history. In 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case of Furman v. Georgia that the death penalty laws of 39 states were unconstitutional. This ruling stated that the death penalty provided “cruel and unusual punishment” under existing state statutes. In Gregg v. Georgia (1976), the Supreme Court held that state death penalty laws could be constitutional if these laws provided clear and objective standards under which the death penalty may be applied. Thirty-eight states now have such death penalty laws in effect.
The economic argument in favor of the death penalty is rather simple. Economists assume that individuals weigh the expected costs and benefits when deciding to undertake any activity. Thus, rational individuals considering criminal activities would weigh the expected benefits against the expected cost of the criminal endeavor. The expected cost of any given crime is affected by the probability of being detected, the probability of being convicted given detection, and the expected penalty that results from a conviction. Since the death penalty provides a higher cost than alternative punishments, it is expected to generate a larger deterrent effect, ceteris paribus.