U.S. Homicide Rates and the Death Penalty

The FBI’s annual crime report – Crime in the United States, 2008 – which was released Monday reveals that, like death sentences and executions, murder rates in the U.S. declined slightly in 2008.  This has been the trend for a number of years, as has been the fact that homicide rates vary from state to state, with the states of the Deep South generally having the highest murder rates.

As usual, states without capital punishment generally had lower homicide rates than the states that execute.  In fact, all but one of the 14 states with no death penalty in 2008 had murder rates below the national rate of 5.4 per 100,000.  The lone exception, Michigan, had a homicide rate of 5.4, equal to the national rate.

Homicide rates in the U.S. are of course still way too high.  That 1 in every 20,000 Americans was murdered last year is nothing to be proud of, but by now it should be clear to all that, as the consensus of criminologists agree, the death penalty has nothing to do with solving this problem.

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64 thoughts on “U.S. Homicide Rates and the Death Penalty

  1. This is another reason why the death penalty is no deterrant to murder, which is one of its flaws, along with botched up executions (like what would have been the execution of Romell Broom, who was stayed for a week after two hours of being unable to find a vein today) and the risk that innocent people may be executed. These are the reasons why I oppose the death penalty, and I hope that the U.S. will one day abolish it and keep society safe from crime so that violence will be no more. Until then, I will continue to pray for the death row inmates and their families and the families of their murder victims for forgiveness and comfort in time of loss. :(

  2. This is another reason why the death penalty is no deterrant to murder, which is one of its flaws, along with botched up executions (like what would have been the execution of Romell Broom, who was stayed for a week after two hours of being unable to find a vein today) and the risk that innocent people may be executed. These are the reasons why I oppose the death penalty, and I hope that the U.S. will one day abolish it and keep society safe from crime so that violence will be no more. Until then, I will continue to pray for the death row inmates and their families and the families of their murder victims for forgiveness and comfort in time of loss. :(

  3. Amazing human rights documentaries at culture unplugged site. go to cultureunplugged (dot) com and will realize what do we do as humans matter a lot to make this world a better place.

  4. Thanks Mike,

    Many supporters of the death penalty do continue to argue that the death penalty is a deterrent, despite the obvious disparities highlighted in this post. As for cost, every study conducted on this question has concluded that the death penalty costs MORE, not less, than life in prison. A recent California study, for example, found that the state (which, like most states, is more or less broke at this point) could save over $100 Million just by getting rid of capital punishment. You can find links to more such studies on our fact sheet about the costs of the death penalty here:
    http://www.amnestyusa.org/death-penalty/death-pen

    Brian

  5. It could also be argued that those states need the death penalty BECAUSE they have higher murder rates. Also, the death penalty isn't entirely a deterrent, nor is it supposed to serve as revenge. Locking people up on life sentences costs inordinate amounts of money that we shouldn't be required to pay.

  6. Thanks Mike,

    Many supporters of the death penalty do continue to argue that the death penalty is a deterrent, despite the obvious disparities highlighted in this post. As for cost, every study conducted on this question has concluded that the death penalty costs MORE, not less, than life in prison. A recent California study, for example, found that the state (which, like most states, is more or less broke at this point) could save over $100 Million just by getting rid of capital punishment. You can find links to more such studies on our fact sheet about the costs of the death penalty here:
    http://www.amnestyusa.org/death-penalty/death-pen

    Brian

  7. Thanks Mike,

    Many supporters of the death penalty do continue to argue that the death penalty is a deterrent, despite the obvious disparities highlighted in this post. As for cost, every study conducted on this question has concluded that the death penalty costs MORE, not less, than life in prison. A recent California study, for example, found that the state (which, like most states, is more or less broke at this point) could save over $100 Million just by getting rid of capital punishment. You can find links to more such studies on our fact sheet about the costs of the death penalty here:
    http://www.amnestyusa.org/death-penalty/death-pen

    Brian

  8. actually, mike, sending people to the electric chair or lethal injection thing costs far more money than prison costs due to thingsl like appeals and court costs. Also i don't even like this argument on principal because you're basically saying that someone's life is a matter of money?

  9. Mike, by the time all legal avenues are exhausted, it actually costs more in the long run to execute someone rather than keep him/her locked up for life. Should we therefore, take away the defendant's right to due process by limiting the number of legal appeals they can make, or should we just keep them in prison with the added bonus of not allowing state-sponsored murder?

  10. While it appears Michigan is at the national average of homocides, I am still proud that we in Michigan have NEVER had the death penalty. I can only speculate that we may be high now because of our economic woos.

  11. The death penalty is perfectly justified, regardless whether it deters murder or not. I don't think you guys understand real evil, and I hope you never do.

  12. This is not a well researched and scientific argument. Homicide is linked to many reasons like economic, social, law and enforcement strength and the most vital reason is GUN ownership.

    Homicide rates are high in southern states because every drunken fool has a gun that’s why they have a high crime rate not because capital punishment is not effective. In a country where it’s legal to carry firearms homicide rates will be high regardless of capital punishment (when you’re drunk and have a gun in your hand the last thing on your mind is capital punishment).

    you need to collect date and look at the history of gun sales and crimes.

    Murders they also need to abolish murdering people, what about the victims? You should go after the people who sell firearms they are the ones that violet the right of other to live. abolish NRA first before capital punishment

  13. The number-one reason for a death penalty is that it serves as a strong deterrent. It is not the only reason, but I assume it to be the number-one reason.

    In earlier times, if you chose to murder, society's response would be to end your life as soon as possible. Public hangings were done for a reason. (Peaceful and safe societies require fair and good judges. Laws guide the citizens and the judges alike.)

    In the US, the COST of dealing with criminals is looked at much differently than it would be in a small village. Whether it be the cost to incarcerate-for-life, or the cost of the judicial-process, necessary to achieving an execution, we (society) feel it is our "societal duty" to pay for such things. Make no mistake, all of this cost each tax-payer some amount per year. (I guess I'm fine with having to pay $500 per year (or whatever) in taxes, to manage criminals, verses having to run the village jail and court house.)

    An informative study would be to compare the same statistic of this article, for states that once had the death-penalty and then abolished it. The objective would be to prove or disprove whether or not the death penalty served as an effective deterrent. Unfortunately, this would require studying a span of time, which would bring in other variables that would create other uncertainties. I guess that's why they call it re-search.

    I am not comfortable drawing a conclusion regarding deterrence from this article. The cultural history of Texas through Indiana may be one of high incidents of murder. These states may have chosen to stay with the death-penalty for the very reason that they feel they need a strong deterrent.

    The arguments for-and-against the death-penalty, as moral or not, or as it relates to human-rights, is a different discussion.

  14. There are no arguments about killing. We cant argue if we should kill someone or not. What is there to argue about?

    A murderer has the right to life, as much as anyone else.
    All human beings are equal, regardless if they have committed a crime or not.

    Human rights do not apply only for some happy few, or whenever we think that they should be applied and certainly not, only when it suits our interest, Ariel.

  15. An evil person does not have the right to life. We are created equal, but our choices determine our destiny. Someone who chooses crimes against humanity has chosen to deny the human rights of others, and denying their right to live, in return, is swift and proper justice. The death penalty is an enforcement of human rights.

  16. Amazing human rights documentaries at culture unplugged site. go to cultureunplugged (dot) com and will realize what do we do as humans matter a lot to make this world a better place.

  17. The reports are only looking at pre-jailtime vs. execution costs, and, obviously, trials that involve the death penalty are going to be scrutinized and discussed a lot more than a trial with less at stake. I don't have a problem paying for these extra costs. What I do have a problem with is paying to keep dangerous criminals alive. The fact that these reports aren't considering the cost of keeping people in prison for the rest of their lives vs. executing them is very unscientific and reflects an obvious bias. I'm confident that you'd find, factoring these costs in, that they even exceed the pre-execution costs of a death-penalty trial.

  18. Ariel,

    Your assertion that the death penalty cost reports I cited don't look at prison costs is simply false. For example, the Maryland report looked at the "lifetime costs of all homicides eligible to receive the death penalty where the homicide occurred between 1978 and 1999." (p. iii) This included prison costs. The Kansas report looked at the costs of incarceration vs. execution (p. 12). And the California report considered "costs of confinement" (p. 82) in all its calculations. Both the Kansas and California reports were commissioned by the state legislatures.

    The fact is, the savings in prison costs associated with executions vs. life in prison are outweighed by the extra costs of death penalty trials.

    Brian

  19. For years logic and reasoning has supported the argued that death penalty not only is socially immoral, but also practically bankrupt. There has never been any scientific data proving that the executionary role of the government would curb criminal bahavior. The logically twisted arguments in favor of institutional killing has its philosophical origins in the religions of dark agaes warped in the colorful economic interests of the modern cottage industry of "Criminal Justice" system. For every execution, the government spends at least three times more than incarcerating a convict for averagre of 30 years.

  20. Well, the mistake on my part was in my interpretation of the amnesty international page. I still maintain that the death penalty is justified in certain circumstances, and my consideration is not based on outside factors like mistrials or associated costs. These are separate issues, which can be addressed in more effective ways than dismissing the death penalty as a form of punishment.

  21. It could also be argued that those states need the death penalty BECAUSE they have higher murder rates. Also, the death penalty isn’t entirely a deterrent, nor is it supposed to serve as revenge. Locking people up on life sentences costs inordinate amounts of money that we shouldn’t be required to pay.

  22. This is a hot issue and we could discuss it all day, but I do want to say just one more thing before I go that I want you to consider. Every second that the perpetrator of a horrible crime against humanity, like the Sept. 11th attacks or the Holocaust, remains alive, they are on borrowed time. These are extreme examples, I know, but they need to be considered. These individuals do not deserve a single passing moment of life experience, because they've denied them indefinitely for countless numbers of innocent people. How can there be justice if they are still able to enjoy the warmth of a shower or the taste of food, while their victims must suffer the loss of even these basic worldly pleasures in death?

  23. Ariel, I agree with what you say and I am an advocate of the death penalty. I am also an advocate of The Innocense Project. I can't think of much worse than executing an innocent person. What I am most against are the prosecutor's offices that want to get a conviction regardless of guilt, and those that have tunnel vision without checking out every single detail. Someone mentioned abolishing guns and the NRA. I certainly don't agree with the abolishment, but do agree with drunken fools (however, not just in the southern states). If the government takes away guns of the honest people, only the criminals will have them leaving the rest of us at their mercy. Police don't "Protect and Serve," but investigate and arrest – more like picking up the pieces of your kid's brain from the asphalt. I, for one, will keep my gun.

  24. Thanks Mike,

    Many supporters of the death penalty do continue to argue that the death penalty is a deterrent, despite the obvious disparities highlighted in this post. As for cost, every study conducted on this question has concluded that the death penalty costs MORE, not less, than life in prison. A recent California study, for example, found that the state (which, like most states, is more or less broke at this point) could save over $100 Million just by getting rid of capital punishment. You can find links to more such studies on our fact sheet about the costs of the death penalty here:

    http://www.amnestyusa.org/death-penalty/death-penalty-facts/death-penalty-cost/page.do?id=1101084

    Brian

  25. actually, mike, sending people to the electric chair or lethal injection thing costs far more money than prison costs due to thingsl like appeals and court costs. Also i don’t even like this argument on principal because you’re basically saying that someone’s life is a matter of money?

  26. Mike, by the time all legal avenues are exhausted, it actually costs more in the long run to execute someone rather than keep him/her locked up for life. Should we therefore, take away the defendant’s right to due process by limiting the number of legal appeals they can make, or should we just keep them in prison with the added bonus of not allowing state-sponsored murder?

  27. While it appears Michigan is at the national average of homocides, I am still proud that we in Michigan have NEVER had the death penalty. I can only speculate that we may be high now because of our economic woos.

  28. The death penalty is perfectly justified, regardless whether it deters murder or not. I don’t think you guys understand real evil, and I hope you never do.

  29. This is not a well researched and scientific argument. Homicide is linked to many reasons like economic, social, law and enforcement strength and the most vital reason is GUN ownership.

    Homicide rates are high in southern states because every drunken fool has a gun that’s why they have a high crime rate not because capital punishment is not effective. In a country where it’s legal to carry firearms homicide rates will be high regardless of capital punishment (when you’re drunk and have a gun in your hand the last thing on your mind is capital punishment).

    you need to collect date and look at the history of gun sales and crimes.

    Murders they also need to abolish murdering people, what about the victims? You should go after the people who sell firearms they are the ones that violet the right of other to live. abolish NRA first before capital punishment

  30. The number-one reason for a death penalty is that it serves as a strong deterrent. It is not the only reason, but I assume it to be the number-one reason.

    In earlier times, if you chose to murder, society’s response would be to end your life as soon as possible. Public hangings were done for a reason. (Peaceful and safe societies require fair and good judges. Laws guide the citizens and the judges alike.)

    In the US, the COST of dealing with criminals is looked at much differently than it would be in a small village. Whether it be the cost to incarcerate-for-life, or the cost of the judicial-process, necessary to achieving an execution, we (society) feel it is our “societal duty” to pay for such things. Make no mistake, all of this cost each tax-payer some amount per year. (I guess I’m fine with having to pay $500 per year (or whatever) in taxes, to manage criminals, verses having to run the village jail and court house.)

    An informative study would be to compare the same statistic of this article, for states that once had the death-penalty and then abolished it. The objective would be to prove or disprove whether or not the death penalty served as an effective deterrent. Unfortunately, this would require studying a span of time, which would bring in other variables that would create other uncertainties. I guess that’s why they call it re-search.

    I am not comfortable drawing a conclusion regarding deterrence from this article. The cultural history of Texas through Indiana may be one of high incidents of murder. These states may have chosen to stay with the death-penalty for the very reason that they feel they need a strong deterrent.

    The arguments for-and-against the death-penalty, as moral or not, or as it relates to human-rights, is a different discussion.

  31. There are no arguments about killing. We cant argue if we should kill someone or not. What is there to argue about?

    A murderer has the right to life, as much as anyone else.
    All human beings are equal, regardless if they have committed a crime or not.

    Human rights do not apply only for some happy few, or whenever we think that they should be applied and certainly not, only when it suits our interest, Ariel.

  32. An evil person does not have the right to life. We are created equal, but our choices determine our destiny. Someone who chooses crimes against humanity has chosen to deny the human rights of others, and denying their right to live, in return, is swift and proper justice. The death penalty is an enforcement of human rights.

  33. The reports are only looking at pre-jailtime vs. execution costs, and, obviously, trials that involve the death penalty are going to be scrutinized and discussed a lot more than a trial with less at stake. I don’t have a problem paying for these extra costs. What I do have a problem with is paying to keep dangerous criminals alive. The fact that these reports aren’t considering the cost of keeping people in prison for the rest of their lives vs. executing them is very unscientific and reflects an obvious bias. I’m confident that you’d find, factoring these costs in, that they even exceed the pre-execution costs of a death-penalty trial.

  34. Ariel,

    Your assertion that the death penalty cost reports I cited don’t look at prison costs is simply false. For example, the Maryland report looked at the “lifetime costs of all homicides eligible to receive the death penalty where the homicide occurred between 1978 and 1999.” (p. iii) This included prison costs. The Kansas report looked at the costs of incarceration vs. execution (p. 12). And the California report considered “costs of confinement” (p. 82) in all its calculations. Both the Kansas and California reports were commissioned by the state legislatures.

    The fact is, the savings in prison costs associated with executions vs. life in prison are outweighed by the extra costs of death penalty trials.

    Brian

  35. For years logic and reasoning has supported the argued that death penalty not only is socially immoral, but also practically bankrupt. There has never been any scientific data proving that the executionary role of the government would curb criminal bahavior. The logically twisted arguments in favor of institutional killing has its philosophical origins in the religions of dark agaes warped in the colorful economic interests of the modern cottage industry of “Criminal Justice” system. For every execution, the government spends at least three times more than incarcerating a convict for averagre of 30 years.

  36. Well, the mistake on my part was in my interpretation of the amnesty international page. I still maintain that the death penalty is justified in certain circumstances, and my consideration is not based on outside factors like mistrials or associated costs. These are separate issues, which can be addressed in more effective ways than dismissing the death penalty as a form of punishment.

  37. This is a hot issue and we could discuss it all day, but I do want to say just one more thing before I go that I want you to consider. Every second that the perpetrator of a horrible crime against humanity, like the Sept. 11th attacks or the Holocaust, remains alive, they are on borrowed time. These are extreme examples, I know, but they need to be considered. These individuals do not deserve a single passing moment of life experience, because they’ve denied them indefinitely for countless numbers of innocent people. How can there be justice if they are still able to enjoy the warmth of a shower or the taste of food, while their victims must suffer the loss of even these basic worldly pleasures in death?

  38. Ariel, I agree with what you say and I am an advocate of the death penalty. I am also an advocate of The Innocense Project. I can’t think of much worse than executing an innocent person. What I am most against are the prosecutor’s offices that want to get a conviction regardless of guilt, and those that have tunnel vision without checking out every single detail. Someone mentioned abolishing guns and the NRA. I certainly don’t agree with the abolishment, but do agree with drunken fools (however, not just in the southern states). If the government takes away guns of the honest people, only the criminals will have them leaving the rest of us at their mercy. Police don’t “Protect and Serve,” but investigate and arrest – more like picking up the pieces of your kid’s brain from the asphalt. I, for one, will keep my gun.

  39. Deterrence is overrated as an argument for the death penalty, unless "deterrence" means "deterring the murderer from committing additional crimes". Capital punishment keeps killers from killing more people when they escape from prison, or are released by the courts or the negligence of corrections officers. It keeps them from killing corrections officers, too.

  40. Deterrence is overrated as an argument for the death penalty, unless “deterrence” means “deterring the murderer from committing additional crimes”. Capital punishment keeps killers from killing more people when they escape from prison, or are released by the courts or the negligence of corrections officers. It keeps them from killing corrections officers, too.

  41. Man, all the messages of you people are a big "F*** you!" to AIUSA and to human rights groups and murder victims' families! You never care about us, at all, and you truly make me sick! :x

  42. Man, all the messages of you people are a big “F*** you!” to AIUSA and to human rights groups and murder victims’ families! You never care about us, at all, and you truly make me sick! :x

  43. Yo, Evans! Did you pass your stats? Or maybe you didn't have that course? Remember this, Statistics does not imply causation! And just to tell you an example: According to statistical research, there are more shark attacks when there are people selling ice-creams on the beach, so sharks like to eat ice-cream. Does that sound right? Nope! The reason that there were more shark attacks when people sell ice-cream on beach is because it is summer! There are more people on the beach in summer time, and so, of course there would be more shark attacks, and more ice-creams. The reason is the summer, not that sharks like ice-cream. So maybe you should dig more about the data you got?
    Sorry if I sound rude, but nothing personal:)

  44. Yo, Evans! Did you pass your stats? Or maybe you didn’t have that course? Remember this, Statistics does not imply causation! And just to tell you an example: According to statistical research, there are more shark attacks when there are people selling ice-creams on the beach, so sharks like to eat ice-cream. Does that sound right? Nope! The reason that there were more shark attacks when people sell ice-cream on beach is because it is summer! There are more people on the beach in summer time, and so, of course there would be more shark attacks, and more ice-creams. The reason is the summer, not that sharks like ice-cream. So maybe you should dig more about the data you got?
    Sorry if I sound rude, but nothing personal:)

  45. Besides the many moral arguments against the death penalty, there is no significant research suggesting that the death penalty, as it is practiced today, deters murders. Much (and perhaps all) of the econometric research that has been done on the death penalty cannot be honestly generalized to contemporary use of lethal injection. Moreover, the use of these econometric models is highly questionable in their predictive validity (take a close look at these models and see if you think they are applying all of the correct variables). Recent research indicates that lethal injection may create a "brutalizing effect" in most states.

  46. Besides the many moral arguments against the death penalty, there is no significant research suggesting that the death penalty, as it is practiced today, deters murders. Much (and perhaps all) of the econometric research that has been done on the death penalty cannot be honestly generalized to contemporary use of lethal injection. Moreover, the use of these econometric models is highly questionable in their predictive validity (take a close look at these models and see if you think they are applying all of the correct variables). Recent research indicates that lethal injection may create a “brutalizing effect” in most states.

  47. yesterdays 'irrefutable' evidence is why so many are being set free today will it be the same tomorrow? any government with the power to kill its own citizens is a HUGE BAD thing waiting to happen. just because the system will never be perfect is enough reason to demand our government stop the killing. not a reason to continue & stand by while they blunder forward. i thank God for the abolitionist movement SPEAKOUT.

  48. yesterdays ‘irrefutable’ evidence is why so many are being set free today will it be the same tomorrow? any government with the power to kill its own citizens is a HUGE BAD thing waiting to happen. just because the system will never be perfect is enough reason to demand our government stop the killing. not a reason to continue & stand by while they blunder forward. i thank God for the abolitionist movement SPEAKOUT.

  49. North Dakota has been blessed for their civility with the two largest new oilfields in the U.S. and the whitest state in the country. They deserve both, keep it up N.D..

  50. North Dakota has been blessed for their civility with the two largest new oilfields in the U.S. and the whitest state in the country. They deserve both, keep it up N.D..

  51. Pingback: FBI: States without capital punishment generally had lower homicide rates than the states that execute | Kentucky Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty

  52. The reason why the death penalty is "no deterrence" is because murderers just cry foul–the cops beat me, I had a bad childhood, I was picked on–then some liberal judge reduces the sentence and a year later they are on the streets again. And usually they end right back up in prison on the tax payers dime. Its called a vicious cycle that too many people have learned to play the justice system. If they would go back to the 1800s and start hanging these murderers on the town square, you'd see a drop in violence real quick. But no, can't have that–too violent for children. But hey kid, here's your new Grand Theft Auto IV video game. You can shoot cops and hump hookers all you want! Fill your brain with these images and simulated play–have fun!
    What a bunch of crap you libs have gotten us in to.

  53. The reason why the death penalty is “no deterrence” is because murderers just cry foul–the cops beat me, I had a bad childhood, I was picked on–then some liberal judge reduces the sentence and a year later they are on the streets again. And usually they end right back up in prison on the tax payers dime. Its called a vicious cycle that too many people have learned to play the justice system. If they would go back to the 1800s and start hanging these murderers on the town square, you’d see a drop in violence real quick. But no, can’t have that–too violent for children. But hey kid, here’s your new Grand Theft Auto IV video game. You can shoot cops and hump hookers all you want! Fill your brain with these images and simulated play–have fun!
    What a bunch of crap you libs have gotten us in to.

  54. In the 1930s the Nazis blamed 100% of Germany's problems on Jews. Today, so-called conservatives in the U.S. blame 100% of America's problems on Liberals. The poor quality of our education is largely to blame for that kind of simplistic thinking. Not surprisingly, the violent crime rate tends to be highest in that area of the country where the religious right holds the most control over people's minds. There is a place in a civilized society for both liberal and conservative philosophy, but we've lost it here. There is no longer a viable conservative party in the U.S. There are only misfits and underachievers, trying to find someone to blame for all of their unhappiness. Try looking in the mirror for a change.

  55. In the 1930s the Nazis blamed 100% of Germany’s problems on Jews. Today, so-called conservatives in the U.S. blame 100% of America’s problems on Liberals. The poor quality of our education is largely to blame for that kind of simplistic thinking. Not surprisingly, the violent crime rate tends to be highest in that area of the country where the religious right holds the most control over people’s minds. There is a place in a civilized society for both liberal and conservative philosophy, but we’ve lost it here. There is no longer a viable conservative party in the U.S. There are only misfits and underachievers, trying to find someone to blame for all of their unhappiness. Try looking in the mirror for a change.

  56. Perhaps we are just are not using the death penalty correctly. Public executions would serve more as a deterrent than to have them die alone in a room with an IV. I'm not sure why so many march on the behalf of the life of a convicted murderer one day and then march the next day for the right to kill babies. Make up your mind is killing ok or not.