EC 322 – Economics of Law:
To: Dr. Azim Essaji
April 5th, 2013
When understanding criminal law it is important to consider the positive and negative effects that different punishment alternatives can have. Over the last century the use of capital punishment, the legal process for which an individual is sentence to death when found guilty of committing a crime, has been a subject debated back and forth between government parties on its effectiveness. Many people believe that the issues of fairness, constitutionality, morality of an individual’s life, and potential of convicting the innocent are too important to allow the use of the death penalty (Giarratano 1991). While others argue that it holds many positive aspects including deterrence, retribution, incapacitation, and lowering the crime rate (Spangenberg and Walsh 1989). Arguing in this paper is that the use of capital punishment is the most effective alternative to deter criminal activity, but at a much higher cost to society.
The type of punishment chosen when convicting a criminal is very important. The government needs to make sure they are using the resources they have most effectively to be able to reduce criminal activity and allow for higher social gains. They first can go about doing this first by trying to prevent criminal activity in the first place. Greater employment is associated with lower levels of arrest (Grogger 1991) meaning that government should be focused on creating more jobs and employment opportunities. Other ways to help minimize the social cost of crime can be through economic and social factors including income maintenance, family counselling, mental health programs, and drug and alcohol counselling (Cooter and Ulen 2012). The secondary efforts they should be focused on to reduce criminal activity already committed is to deter less experienced, younger offenders in the chance to catch them at an early stage in their criminal life cycle (Grogger 1991). By creating a sanction strategy to impose costs to young offenders and make sure that it will not damage future employment opportunities for them, it will allow a reduction in a cost to society for both the offender’s future chance of criminal activity and future imprisonment costs (Grogger 1991). By determining these factors, the government will be able to find the most effective form of punishment for a crime committed.
One of the main arguments supporting capital punishment is the strong ability it has on deterring criminal activity. The gains associated with capital punishment are the affect it can have on effectively deterring criminals from not only murderer, but any serious crime (Cameron 1989). It is used as an intimidation factor for which people weigh the cost and benefits of their actions, and in a case where the cost is their life, the probability of them committing a crime will decrease (Shepherd 2004). The significant relationship it shares with the homicide rate has been found that 150 fewer homicides take place in reaction to one execution happening to a convicted murderer (Cooter and Ulen 2012). Looking at this relationship directly from an economic perspective, capital punishment can be seen as a commodity; an increase in it leads to an increase in consumer welfare as it decreases the chance of another victim being murdered (Cameron 1993). The effect that deterrence has on society is seen as a public good as well because of the positive, widespread affect it has on a larger number of consumers by increases their safety and security. By increasing the amount of resources the government puts towards conviction and punishment for criminal activities, it will allow for a reduction in harm (Cooter and Ulen 2012) and allow the demand for protection and a safer environment to be met. Capital punishment is the strongest alternative of punishment to create the largest...
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