Posted by: mulrickillion | February 2, 2010

Global Capital Punishment: The Pros and Cons of the Death Penalty

In 2009 and earlier years, there has been a great deal of debate about the issue of capital punishment or the death penalty. The issue of capital punishment presents a global issue because the issue of the death penalty transcends national boundaries or jurisdictions. In 2009, the media reported many instances of capital punishment or the death penalty in countries such as the United States, China, Iran, and many other countries. The issue of capital punishment also appears not to be divisible by models of polities, as the most dire punishment employs by many forms of government and judicial systems. In 2010 and on, one reasonably suspects that the debate on the pros and cons of punishment by capital punishment (death penalty) will continue. For this reason, it seems prudent at this time, which is at the end of the first decade of a new millennium to provide the following information and data concerning capital punishment. What follows is a succinct exposition summarizing the pros and cons of the issue.

A search for critical information on capital punishment resulted in the following information and data, which is from, “[A] blog about human rights, including political and economic rights, from the perspective of politics, art and philosophy (hence P.A.P.), but also law, economics, statistics etc. Political and economic rights, that means we also talk about issues such as democracy and poverty.” The source of this summary is “Statistics on Capital Punishment at the P.A.P. Blog”, which presents an excellent summary of the relevant issues and data. The most striking aspects of the summary on capital punishment at the P.A.P. Blog are the current trends and deterrent effects of capital punishment.

Moreover, at the end of the day, in modern societies, capital punishment or the death penalty may present the most Draconian form of negative liberty (i.e., Draconian legislation) or means chosen to force human individuals to be free.

M. Ulric Killion.

The Statistics on Capital Punishment:

A more polemical post on capital punishment is here.


1. Current situation: death penalty laws and numbers of executions
2. Deterrence?
3. Racial discrimination in the use of capital punishment
4. Trends in capital punishment: numbers of executions, public support and abolitionism
1. Current situation: death penalty laws and numbers of executions

These are the different death penalty laws around the world:

(source, click on the image to enlarge)

capital punishment laws of the world, 2008 map


Amnesty International estimates that around 1.200 people were executed by their governments in 2007. Of course, this is a gross underestimate given the large number of unreported executions, extra-judicial executions, deaths caused while incarcerated, etc.

This graph ranks countries according to the number of executions compared to total population:

The number of prisoners on death row around the world – the people waiting sometimes for 20 years for their “imminent” execution – is probably close to 15.000:


The following chart shows the number and methods of executions in the U.S. (there was a Supreme Court enforced moratorium in the sixties and seventies):

2. Deterrence?

It is difficult to conclusively demonstrate the existence or non-existence of a deterrence effect because correlations unearthed (or not) in statistical analysis do not imply causation. Those who refrain from committing crimes due to a supposed deterrent effect of the death penalty will by definition never show up in any statistic.

This Amnesty International graph shows that murder rates in US states that apply the death penalty are higher than the rates in other states.

So this would indicate that deterrence doesn’t work. But we can only be sure of this when the death penalty will no longer be applied for many years to come in the states which apply it currently, and when the murder rate after abolition doesn’t go up. But even if all this happens, this can be the result of other causes.

This other graph points in the opposite direction:

There’s a paper here presenting the results of a survey among leading criminologists regarding their opinion on the deterrent effect of capital punishment in the U.S.

The findings demonstrate an overwhelming consensus among these criminologists that the empirical research conducted on the deterrence question strongly supports the conclusion that the death penalty does not add deterrent effects to those already achieved by long imprisonment.

Here’s one result of the study: 

More about deterrence statistics is here.

3. Racial discrimination in the use of capital punishment

A particular problem with executions in the US, is the apparent racial discrimination of death row. Whereas people from African-American descent make up only 12% of the population, they represent 34% of the executions:



4. Trends in capital punishment: numbers of executions, public support and abolitionism

I’ve argued here against the death penalty, so it’s good news to see that there’s a gradual, worldwide trend in favor of the abolition of capital punishment. Let’s first have a look at the U.S. The number of death sentences in the U.S. has dropped substantially over the last decade:


The number of executions has dropped as well:

98 in 1999

53 in 2006

42 in 2007.


Of course, the U.S. isn’t the most brutal in this respect:


In the U.S., public support for the death penalty is waning, especially when the people who are polled can choose the alternative of life imprisonment without parole:





When we look beyond the U.S. – which is indeed not the main culprit – we see that an increasing number of countries has abolished or limited the death penalty. At the end of 2008, almost 140 countries had either legally abolished capital punishment, or stopped applying the punishment in practice (abolitionist in practice means not having carried out an execution in over 10 years):


More on capital punishment.

Source: Statistics on Capital Punishment « P.A.P. Blog – Human Rights Etc..


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