Fun number

Some supporters of the referendum point to a 2011 study co-authored by Arthur Alarcón, a federal appellate judge for the Ninth Circuit in Los Angeles, which found California had spent more than $4 billion on capital punishment since it was reinstated in 1978—about $308 million for each of the 13 executions since then.

There might be less costly methods of punishing people really.

18 comments on “Fun number

  1. The £1.5m spent on Abu Hamza’s legal aid could have paid for 15 years of his detention on remand.
    Oh, wait a mo…

  2. ukliberty – “I predict certain of this parish will advocate ‘review’ of the appeals process.”

    Indeed. As with Abu Hamza, some activists have abused the system in order to stop it working. We gained nothing by spending tens of millions of pounds trying to send the bastard to America. But go he did and now he will face justice. Of course the legal profession is complicit in it because those seven figure sums go to their Chambers, colleagues, friends and pupils. But the rest of us gain nothing by it. California needs to ignore the people who want to kill capital punishment by jamming up the system and just get on it with it.

    As for whether it is worth it, Emory’s study said every execution deterred between 8 and 28 murders. With the average being 18. If we go with the American assumption that lives are worth about $3 million each, even these botched processes are a bargain. And that is without counting the people the executed would have gone on to murder, rape and abuse.

  3. As to whether it’s worth it, SMFS has cherry-picked his study (there’s no researcher called “Emory” in this field, but there are some at Emory University). The result is highly model-dependent, and it’s just as easy to show that each execution causes additional murders.

  4. PaulB – “As to whether it’s worth it, SMFS has cherry-picked his study (there’s no researcher called “Emory” in this field, but there are some at Emory University).”

    And several of researchers at Emory produced the study. As it is tiresome to repeat every single name, “Emory” seems a reasonable abbreviation to me. You are objecting for the sake of it and so contributing nothing useful to the discussion.

    “The result is highly model-dependent, and it’s just as easy to show that each execution causes additional murders.”

    It was a meta-study. Which I would tend to think means it is pretty model-independent. But by all means explain to me how looking right across the field at everyone’s models is model-dependent.

    It is not easy to show additional executions cause more murders. It can be done but it is not easy.

  5. Statistically, are you more likely to be killed by a convicted murderer who has done their time than by someone in the general population?

  6. I suppose this is the paper SMFS is talking about. It’s not, as he claims, a meta-study, but then I don’t suppose he’s read it.

    This, paper considers the question of what characteristics of different published models, including the Emory model, produce different results. The charts at the end of the paper rank the results of 20 different models, of three underlying types.

    Someone not cherry picking his study (or copying from a source that did) would have mentioned that most models suggest that executing murderers increases the homicide rate.

  7. most models suggest that executing murderers increases the homicide rate.

    Confusing correlation with causation? Violent societies have more murders (pretty much by definition) and are more likely to have capital punishment would seem to be a perfectly reasonable alternative hypothesis.

  8. SE: if you’re interested in this you should read the paper. The modellers are aware of confounding effects and do their best to overcome them.

  9. Given there is no such thing as a fool proof justice system, it is inevitable that any society with the Death Penalty will execute some innocent people. Given this, how many innocent people executed is a worthwhile price to pay in order to have the Death Penalty? (Pretending that no one innocent gets executed is a cop out).

  10. SE, its also my main objection. I am sympathetic to other objections (eg the State not having the right to take life and similar), but I am also sympathetic to those that think that cold blooded killers should be executed. (My head agrees with the former group, my heart with the latter).

    However, the fact that innocent people will also be executed is the deal breaker for me. This alone suffices to make me implacably opposed to the DP.

    (Its one of the ever so tiny number of things I grudgingly like about the EU.)

    I certainly do not agree with the nonsense that the DP should be brought back selectively for murderers of favoured groups (usually children and/or those who kill polic officers), as if murderers of adult civilians is somehow less bad.

  11. PaulB,

    Okay, I’ve read the paper. And, although it finds a mean positive correlation on conditional probability analysis (which I wasn’t disputing), it clearly states:

    Hence, if one were to attempt to draw a conclusion from our model space, based on averaging, this conclusion would be that the marginal effect of an execution on the number of murders is positive. However, the standard errors of the estimates are of the same order of magnitude as the estimates themselves, so this evidence is quite weak.

    So, not only do they not agree that there is a causation link, they do not think their analysis shows a significant result.

    Chris – but if the state doesn’t have the right to take life, we should drop arming of specialist police and disband the military?

  12. ChrisM – “Given there is no such thing as a fool proof justice system, it is inevitable that any society with the Death Penalty will execute some innocent people. Given this, how many innocent people executed is a worthwhile price to pay in order to have the Death Penalty? (Pretending that no one innocent gets executed is a cop out).”

    I don’t know. But given no prison system is perfect, anyone jailed for murder may kill again and a number of them do. Innocent people will die either way. Either we run the risk of killing innocent people or we allow the guilty to kill again. The question therefore cannot be how many innocent people are we prepared to kill but how do we minimise the number of innocent people killed.

    To which end I think the only answer is to execute. Yes, American trials have problems. But the solution is not to rule out execution but to fix the problems. We may well execute some innocent people. But more innocent people will not be killed.

    It is not just murder either. After all, if your teenage son was going to jail, would you want him to be locked up with recidivist murderers, rapists and so on – some of whom are doing Life and so cannot be deterred by punishment – or with other first time offenders in for jay walking?

  13. SE: yes, it’s a good paper in that it speaks honestly about the limitations of this sort of analysis. My a priori guess is that true sensitivity is close to zero.

  14. SMFS “anyone jailed for murder may kill again and a number of them do”

    Only if they are let out. This is simply fixed by making life imprisonment mean life imprisonment.

    “After all, if your teenage son was going to jail, would you want him to be locked up with recidivist murderers, ”

    There are different classes of prisons for different classes of crime. What is is that my teenage son is being locked up for?

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