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Once Upon a Time there was the theory of the deterrence of the death penalty.
This theory was easy to understand: “the more the State kills, the less there are homidices”, but it was a hoax.

Americans belive in death penalty even if in the Thirties, when executions were common, the homicide rate was very hight and in Forties and Fifties both executions and murders fall. They take for granted that the grow of homicides in the Sixties was linked to the suspension of executions (1967-1977) and forget that America was without capital punishment for a very short time after Furman. According to the hangmanfriends any drop in the homicide rate is the benefit of the soar of executions and they do not notice that both rise from 1984 to 1991.

Anyway.
Their mantra is that each execution saves 18 innocent lives (someone offers even more) and from 1991 to 1999 this seemed to happen: with more and more executions and less and less murders. The triumph of the executioner was 1999 with 98 executions, 300 death sentences and the lowest homicide rate in decades: 5,7.
So, they all lived happily ever after?
Not exactly.

Executioners’ triumphalism ends the following year.
Their bombastic confidence suddenly disappeared as the supposed deterrent effect of the death penalty vanished. Since 2000 we saw a breakneck drop both in sentences as well as executions and, in the same time, we assisted to a remarkable stability in the homicide rate. Death sentences are now a little more than one hundred per year and executions were only 53 in 2006, 42 in 2007 and a mere 37 in 2008. On the other side the homicide rate looks nailed between 5,5 and 5,7.

This can be explained in two ways: prospective murderers do not know that the probability to be condemned to death is even rarer than before, or the whole theory of the deterrence of capital punishment is an enormous bullshit.
I am inclined to the second explanation.

Americans hangmanfriends are very insular and do not like to get a look abroad: not even north of the border. It’s a pity because they could learn a lot.
In 2002 Americans were very happy because they had only 16.638 criminal homicides. They were right because, from 1984 to 1993, criminal homicides were 22.000 per year and 25.000 in 1991. Au contraire, in the same 2002, in Italy we were very afraid because, with a population that is grosso modo one fifth of the American one, we had 638 homicides. We were very concerned about it, even if those 638 were less than one third the 2.000 homicides we had in 1991. Americans love to think the drop in homicides is a benefit of the death penalty. We cannot agree because we are a death penalty free country. (In Europe this punishment is strictly forbidden and the majority of the world is abolitionist).
Actually Italy ended capital punishment in 1877 and had it again only under fascism. In those sad years the homicide rate was five times bigger that we have now, and, in the twenty years following the definitive end of the death penalty (1948-1968), the homicide rate dropped from 5 to 1,4.
Something very similar happened in Canada in the years that followed the end of capital punishment in 1976. Since then its homicide rate fell down constantly.
Curiously in the same July 1976 the US Supreme Court gave green light to the “new and improved” American death penalty and, with the shooting of Gary Gilmore (17th January 1977), the hangman was back in business and the experiment begun. Now, after more than 1.100 human sacrifices, we can say with Justice Blackmun: “the death penalty experiment has failed”.

Americans can see that capital punishment is not a deterrent even in their own country, where 15 jurisdictions are abolitionist (Michigan since 1837). A long time ago Thorsten Sellin observed that: “the states with executions chambers had rate or murder that were significantly higher than states that did not execute murders”. Possibly this is a consequence of the wild examples of brutality executions give, because: “ Our Government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example.” (Justice Brandeis, dissenting in Olmstead).

Of course this does not satisfy hangmanfriends, so John Lott writes:
“This simple comparison really doesn’t prove anything. The 12 states without the death penalty have long enjoyed relatively low murder rates due to factors unrelated to capital punishment.”
And wins the 2008 chutzpah prize.
Claudio Giusti
P.S.
Please, excuse my very bad English

Dott. Claudio Giusti
Via Don Minzoni 40, 47100 Forlì, Italia
Tel. 39/0543/401562 39/340/4872522
e-mail giusticlaudio@aliceposta.it
Member of the Scientific Committee of Osservatorio sulla Legalità e i Diritti, Claudio Giusti had the privilege and the honour to participate in the first congress of the Italian Section of Amnesty International: later he was one of the founders of the World Coalition Against The Death Penalty.

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer

We must act and dare the appropiateness and not whatever comes to our mind not floating in the likelihood but grasp the reality as brave as we can be freedom lies in action not in the absence of mind obedience knows the essence of good and satisfies it, freedom dares to act and returns God the ultimate judgment of what is right and what is wrong, Obedience performs blindly but Freedom is wide awake Freedom wants to know why, Obedience has its hands tied, Freedom is inventive obedient man respects God’s commands and by virtu of his Freedom, he creats new commands. Both Obedience and Freedom come true in responsability (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

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