Summary: the Changing Nature of Death Penalty Debates.
In this paper, the authors examine how the death penalty argument has changed in the last 25 years in the United States. They examine six specific issues: deterrence, incapacitation, caprice and bias, cost innocence and retribution; and how public opinion has change regarding these issues. They argue that social science research is changing the way Americans view the death penalty and suggest that Americans are moving toward an eventual abolition of the death penalty. The authors describe the history of the death penalty statues in the United States and how “In a monumental 1972 decision by the US Supreme Court, all but a few death penalty statutes in the United States were declared unconstitutional” (Radelet & Borg, 2000, page 1). Four years later the Supreme Court reversed its course toward abolition by approving several newly enacted capital statutes. By 1999, there were “some 3500 men and 50 women on death rows in 38 states and two federal jurisdictions” (Radelet & Borg, 2000, page 1). The author describes how there has been fluctuations in the general population opinion regarding the death penalty since its reintroduction in 1976. While the majority of the American public supports the death penalty, recent studies have shown that this support has diminished a little. “In the early 1970, the top argument in favor of the death penalty was general deterrence” (Radelet & Borg, 2000, page 2). The authors argue that the death penalty does not prevent others from committing the same offense. They describe how deterrence studies have failed to support the hypothesis that the death penalty is more effective at preventing criminal homicides than along imprisonment. Another argument used by supporters of the death penalty in past years involves “the incapacitation theory, which suggests that we need to execute the most heinous killers in order to prevent them from killing again” (Radelet & Borg, 200, page 3). The authors
Radelet, Michael L. & Borg, Marian J. (2000). The Changing Nature of Death Penalty Debates.
Annual Review of Sociology, 26, 43-61.