Doesn’t Keep Us Safer

“Many law enforcement officials say the death penalty wastes scarce crime prevention resources. The time spent chasing a handful of executions means countless other crimes go unsolved. The death penalty does not deter acts of violence and it siphons resources from effective tools that do. Many law enforcement officials say the death penalty is only a distraction from their goal of public safety.” (Equal Justice USA, Dumb on Crime: How the death penalty fails to keep us safe).

The death penalty diverts scarce resources from crime prevention

  • “The death penalty is certainly not an effective law enforcement tool. Effective law enforcement and crime prevention requires precious resources that are being wasted on this ineffective and broken program. In times of fiscal crisis the programs that fail to achieve their own goals should be the first to go.”1

— Ken Jones, 33 year veteran of Illinois’ Cook County Police Department

Executions keep murder rates… high?

  • A simple comparison reveals that states without the death penalty actually have lower murder rates than those with the death penalty. The South has over 80% of the nation’s executions, yet the highest murder rate in the U.S. That region also accounts for more law enforcement officers killed than any other region in the last 15 years.2
  • The experience of individual states confirms the data. The murder rate in Manhattan dropped steadily for ten years even though the District Attorney there opposed the death penalty and refused to seek it. The number of homicides in New York is at its lowest level in decades, even though the state has been without a death penalty for seven years.3
  • In New Jersey the murder rate dropped two years in a row after the death penalty was repealed, with Camden, NJ reaching its lowest level of violent crime since 1969.4

Deterrence is a myth — and people know it

  • The National Research Council reviewed more than three decades of research and found no credible evidence that the death penalty deters.5
  • This isn’t surprising: to the extent someone with a deadly weapon in a rage is going to be deterred from anything, the real prospect of spending a lifetime in prison is at least as persuasive as the small chance of getting executed.
  • A 2009 study found 88% of the nation’s top criminologists believe the death penalty is not a deterrent.6 Nearly two-thirds of the American people agree, according to recent polling.7
  • Even police officers do not believe the death penalty is an effective deterrent. Police chiefs ranked the death penalty last among effective ways to reduce violent crime in a 2009 survey. A full 99% said that changes such as reducing drug abuse or improving the economy were more important than the death penalty in reducing violent crime.8


  1. Ken Jones, private interview.
  2. Murder rates based on FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, cited by the Death Penalty Information Center. Murder rates based on the years 1990 to 2010. FBI’s Crime in the United States cited by the Death Penalty Information Center. Law enforcement murder rates based on the years 1996 to 2011. FBI’s Statistics on Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted Reports 2006-2011 and FBI’s 2006 Uniform Crime Report – Law Enforcement Officers Feloniously Killed, Table 1.
  3. “Homicide at low for state since 1975”, Associated Press. January 30, 2012
  4. NJ Attorney General Anne Milgram, quoted in “Armed with statistics, Milgram readies for departure”, NJ Star Ledger, December 30, 2009.
  5. D. Nagin and J. Pepper, “Deterrence and the Death Penalty,” Committee on Law and Justice at the National Research Council, April 2012.
  6. Michael Radelet and Traci Lacock, “Do Executions Lower Homicide Rates? The Views of Leading Criminologists,” Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Northwestern University School of Law, June 2009.
  7. May 2006 Gallop poll.
  8. National Survey of Police Chiefs Report in “Smart on Crime.” Death Penalty Information Center.

To read the entire fact sheet on the death penalty and public safety: EJUSA DP factsheet public safety (PDF).