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The Deterrent Effect of Capital Punishment: Evidence from a "Judicial Experiment"

  • Hashem Dezhbakhsh
  • Joanna M. Shepherd

We use panel data for 50 states during the 1960--2000 period to examine the deterrent effect of capital punishment, using the moratorium as a "judicial experiment." We compare murder rates immediately before and after changes in states' death penalty laws, drawing on cross-state variations in the timing and duration of the moratorium. The regression analysis supplementing the before-and-after comparisons disentangles the effect of lifting the moratorium on murder from the effect of actual executions on murder. Results suggest that capital punishment has a deterrent effect, and that executions have a distinct effect which compounds the deterrent effect of merely (re)instating the death penalty. The finding is robust across 96 regression models. (JEL C1, K1) Copyright 2006, Oxford University Press.

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Article provided by Western Economic Association International in its journal Economic Inquiry.

Volume (Year): 44 (2006)
Issue (Month): 3 (July)
Pages: 512-535

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Handle: RePEc:oup:ecinqu:v:44:y:2006:i:3:p:512-535
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  1. Cameron, Samuel, 1994. "A review of the econometric evidence on the effects of capital punishment," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 23(1-2), pages 197-214.
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