Support for the death penalty in U.S. academia

For decades, U.S. college professors have been in the forefront of critics of the death penalty. But now, a small but growing number of professors and social scientists are speaking out in support of capital punishment.

The small cadre of pro-death-penalty academics is changing the nature of the American national debate on the subject:

  • About a dozen of the academic researchers have produced evidence that the death penalty does deter crime.

  • They also are questioning studies that say it is racially biased.

  • And they are disputing the argument that innocent persons are being executed – contending that of the 100-plus persons released from death row over the past 30 years, only one-third could show they were innocent of murder, while the rest were released for other reasons, often legal technicalities.

    While about 70 percent of the general public still supports the death penalty, it has been estimated that some 99 percent of college professors oppose it.

    John McAdams, a political science professor at Marquette University in Milwaukee, takes issue with the belief that black defendants are more likely to receive the death penalty than whites convicted in similar slayings.

  • He says that doesn't take into account that blacks make up about 50 percent of all murder victims, even though they make up only about 12 percent of the U.S. population – and that all but a few blacks are killed by other blacks.

  • Blacks who kill blacks, McAdams argues, are far less likely to get the death penalty than whites, blacks and Hispanics who kill whites.

    Recent studies have established that murder rates declined in counties where the death penalty was imposed. Researchers produced a statistical formula which suggests that each execution saved the lives of 18 potential victims.

    Source: Richard Willing, Death Penalty Gains Unlikely Defenders, USA Today, January 7, 2003.

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    For more on Capital Punishment

    FMF Policy Bulletin/15 January 2003
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