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February 26, 2007 10:03 PM UTC

Capital Punishment: Deterent or Cause?

  • 0 Comments
  • by: yevrahnevets

from Denver Post Open Forum, Sunday, February 25, 2007.

Not surprisingly, violent punishment is correlated with violent crime: We are one of the last developed countries to retain the death penalty, and we suffer by far the highest levels of criminal violence of all developed countries. There are three possible explanations: High rates of criminal violence cause countries to retain the death penalty; the retention of the death penalty promotes high rates of criminal violence; or some third factor explains both the retention of the death penalty and high rates of criminal violence.

Arguments can be made for all three: High rates of violent crime harden people’s attitudes; legitimating violent revenge within the legal system feeds into a culture of violence in which violent responses outside of the penal system are less repressed; and this is part of a cultural “gene” (or “meme,” as the biologist Richard Dawkins calls it) for violent behavior that is expressed both in the law and beyond the law.

I submit that all three factors are linked into a system of mutually reinforcing feedback loops, all feeding that cultural meme for violence. The best thing we can do for victims of violent crime is to try to make fewer of them. Abolishing capital punishment, in the long run, is likely to do just that.

Steve Harvey, Littleton

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