Murder and capital punishment: a monthly time-series analysis of execution publicity
American Sociological Review
Bailey, William C.~Peterson, Ruth D.
Copyright (c) 1989
Abstract: In a recent analysis of the effect of execution publicity on homicides, Stack (1987) challenged the consensus of most social scientists that capital punishment does not effectively deter murder. He found that publicized executions have a very significant deterrent effect. Stack reports that 16 highly publicized executions may have saved as many as 480 innocent lives during 1950-1980. The present investigation attempts to shed additional light on the execution publicity/deterrence question. Our review of Stack’s investigation shows that it suffers from a number of conceptual and methodological limitations. Correcting for these difficulties, we find no evidence that execution publicity influenced the rate of homicide during the 1950-1980 or 1940-1986 period. Some evidence suggests that higher levels of execution are associated with lower murder rates. However, the apparent deterrent effect is very slight and short term. Indeed, the cumulative effect of capital punishment on homicides during the execution and subsequent months is essentially zero.