In addition, the committee suggests research on how the presence of capital punishment in a sanctions regime affects the administration of the regime and how the homicide rate affects the statutory definition of the sanction regime and its administration.

The committee does not expect that advances in new data on sanction regimes and obtaining knowledge of sanctions risk perceptions will come quickly or easily. However, data collection on the noncapital component of the sanction regime need not be entirely complete to be useful. Moreover, even if research on perceptions of the risk of capital punishment cannot resolve all major issues, some progress would be an important step forward.

The ultimate success of the research may depend on the specific question that is addressed. Questions of interest include

•   if or how the legal status of the death penalty affects homicide rates,

•   if or how the intensity of use of the death penalty affects homicide rates, and

•   if or how executions affect homicide rates in the short run.

Some but not all of these questions may be informed by successful application of the committee’s suggested lines of research.

Although evaluation of research on the deterrent effect of noncapital sanctions was not part of the committee’s charge, we note that the methods and approaches used to study capital and noncapital sanction effects on crime overlap. We were charged with making suggestions for advancing research on the latter issue. Thus, the research and data collection suggestions above are framed in the broader context of research on the effect on crime rates of both capital and noncapital sanctions.

We think this aspect of our charge is particularly important. Although capital punishment is a highly contentious public policy issue, policies on prison sanctions and their enforcement are the most important components of the nation’s response to crime. Thus, even if the research agenda we outline is not ultimately successful in illuminating some aspects of the effect of capital punishment on homicide, advancing knowledge on the crime prevention effects of noncapital sanctions and their enforcement can make major contributions to important policy issues.


National Research Council. (1978). Deterrence and Incapacitation: Estimating the Effects of Criminal Sanctions on Crime Rates. Panel on Research on Deterrent and Incapacitative Effects. A. Blumstein, J. Cohen, and D. Nagin (Eds.), Committee on Research on Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice. Assembly of Behavioral and Social Sciences.Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

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