Is the death penalty actually a deterrent?

By Finn Bunting

Following recent news about Conservative Party MP Priti Patel’s support of the death penalty it is a good opportunity to look at some of the facts, and answer the question - Does the death penalty act as a deterrent to commit crimes?

According to Amnesty International UK, while the number of people sentenced to death has increased, the actual number of executions fell between 2013 and 2014.  

At the start of 2014, nearly 20,000 people were awaiting execution around the world. While 55 countries are known to have sentenced at least 2,466 people to death in 2014, 22 countries actually carried out 607 executions - a decrease of 22% compared with 2013 

The world’s five worst executioners are a familiar bunch: China, heading up the list at more than 1000+ executions in 2014, although official figures are a state secret; Iran, which officially claims 289 but sources suggest more; Saudi Arabia executed 90+, many for non-lethal offences such as ‘witchcraft’, ‘sorcery’ and ‘adultery’; Iraq, which allegedly executed 60+ people, many for terrorism related offences; and fifth place is the United States, where 35 people were executed in 2014. Indonesia is in the running for a top five place next year following the acceleration of their executions as a result of their staunch anti-drug stance, with 14 people recently executed for drug offences. 

Many claim that capital punishment is the ultimate incentive not to commit serious crime, as punishment resulting in death persuades others against similar acts. Indonesian President Joko Widodo recently said the death penalty was reinstated as the result of a supposed drug emergency in the country.“The death penalty is still our positive law”, he said. Widodo claims, “Every day 50 young Indonesians die [due to drugs], in one year that is 18,000 dead.” 

                                  Indonesian President Joko Widodo

                                  Indonesian President Joko Widodo

“I hope they understand about that" - he said, referring to foreign tourists. Patel herself said she supported the reintroduction of capital punishment “to serve as a deterrent.”

Using figures from the US, as they are the most reliable, executing criminals doesn’t seem to have resulted in any significant reduction in criminal activity. In fact, US states that don’t use the death penalty actually have much lower murder rates. 

Which the table below shows:

Year 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006
Murder Rate in Death Penalty States* 9.5 9.94 9.51 9.69 9.23 8.59 7.72 7.09 6.51 5.86 5.70 5.82 5.82 5.91 5.71 5.87 5.9
Murder Rate in Non-death Penalty States 9.16 9.27 8.63 8.81 7.88 6.78 5.37 5.00 4.61 4.59 4.25 4.25 4.27 4.10 4.02 4.03 4.22
Percent Difference 4% 7% 10% 10% 17% 27% 44% 42% 41% 28% 35% 37% 36% 44% 42% 46% 40%

A significant hitch in the death penalty as a deterrence camp is that in general, deterrence is only effective when the punishment occurs directly following the crime. But, due to the long length of time between crime and punishment in capital punishment cases its effectiveness is ultimately significantly reduced.

A July 2009 study by Michael L. Radelet and Traci L. LaCock found that 88% of the leading criminologists in the US did not believe that the death penalty deters people from committing murder. They also believe that its abolition would not result in an increase in murder rates. Quoting from their study: “the consensus among criminologists is that the death penalty does not add any significant deterrent effect above that of long-term imprisonment.” 

The BBC reports from an Amnesty International survey for the UN back in 1988 conducted to try and work out a correlation between death penalty rates and homicide figures. This was updated in 1996.The study found: “The evidence as a whole still gives no positive support to the deterrent hypothesis. The key to real and true deterrence is to increase the likelihood of detection, arrest and conviction.”

So across a number of different studies throughout different years, deterrence has never proved to be a consequence of death penalty laws. In fact, in many cases the opposite is true. 

A last thought is this, is it fair for someone, whatever the crime, to pay for the predicted future crimes of others, that have no connection to them? 

UK MP pro-death penalty


By Finn Bunting

The UK’s new Minister of State at the Department for Work and Pensions supports the reintroduction of the death penalty because she believes it would be a deterrent for criminals. 

Tory MP Priti Patel

Tory MP Priti Patel


Priti Patel, Conservative MP for the Witham constituency in Essex, was speaking on BBC’s Question Time programme in September 2011: 

“I have said this before and I say this again: I do think that when we have a criminal justice system that continuously fails in the country and where we have seen murderers and rapists … reoffend and do those crimes again and again I think that’s appalling… On that basis alone I would support the reintroduction of capital punishment to serve as a deterrent.”

Despite there being no proof that capital punishment acts as a deterrent to crime, the issue is something Patel seems to have in common with her Conservative colleague Michael Gove, who as a newspaper columnist for The Times supported the return of the death penalty. 

Gove claimed his support was based on “respect for democracy”. 

“[Abolishing the death penalty] has led to a corruption of our criminal justice system, the erosion of all our freedoms and has made the punishment of the innocent more likely, as it had come with the Home Secretary being given the power to impose whole-life tariffs. Hanging may seem barbarous, but the greater barbarity lies in the slow abandonment of our common law traditions … I would prefer a fair trial, under the shadow of the noose.”

The UK has traditionally been at the forefront of the anti-Capital Punishment movement,  leading the charge in restricting the export of death penalty drugs to the United States, in 2011, under the direction of Liberal Democrat Vince Cable - a move the rest of the European Union followed in 2011.  

A country cannot be a member of the European Union and have the death penalty as a punishment, as its abolition is a condition of membership. But with an EU membership referendum seemingly on its way who knows what the future holds? 

Guilty, but Boston Bomber is unlikely to face execution

By Finn Bunting

Despite prosecutors attempts, Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is unlikely to be sentenced to death, even though jurors found him guilty on all 30 counts - with 17 capital charges, carrying a possible death penalty. 

Tsarnaev, along with brother Tamerlan, exploded two devices on April 15, 2013, causing the deaths of three people and injuries to an estimated 264 others. The brothers escaped and allegedly killed a police officer before a large-scale manhunt ended with Tamerlan’s death and Dzhokhar’s capture. 

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Tsarnaev: "If not in this case, then when?" former federal prosecutor Allison Burroughs told CNN. But some legal experts are saying this would be difficult in liberal Boston, which also has a large Catholic community (Pope Francis opposes capital punishment).

In a poll taken in 2013, 57 per cent of respondents supported a life sentence, compared to 33 per cent in support of the death penalty for Tsarnaev. This view is echoed by a Boston Globe editorial

In a Boston Herald article, University of Calif­ornia Berkeley professor Frank Zimring is quoted as saying: “There are a lot of people who would want him to die, of course, but the question of killing as part of the rebuilding of Boston ... that’s going to be a very tough sell.”

Another important factor is that to impose the death penalty, the jury must be unanimous in its decision – and getting all 12 jurors to agree on a death sentence for Tsarnaev will be difficult for the prosecution.

Speaking to CNN, Lillian Campbell, who lost her granddaughter Krystle Campbell, said: "When they came out with this part about the death sentence ... I said, well, I don't really care what they do with them. Because whatever they do, it's not going to bring her back … I’ll never forget her, ever, no matter how much they say. Or what they do with the guy who did it. So I wouldn't wish anyone dead. I wouldn't."

Pharmacists adopt anti-Death Penalty stance

By Finn Bunting

The American Pharmacists Association has voted to actively discourage members from supplying lethal injection drugs - further increasing the pressure on states that support the death penalty.

The decision was made at the APhA annual meeting, held in San Diego on Monday, which represents some 62,000 members. 

In a statement, the APhA said, "The American Pharmacists Association discourages pharmacist participation in executions on the basis that such activities are fundamentally contrary to the role of pharmacists as providers of health care.”

Prison officials turned to compounding pharmacies to provide them with the drug cocktail required to execute prisoners following the pharmaceutical industry’s withdrawal of the supply of lethal injection drugs. 

These made-to-measure drugs have resulted in some botched executions in recents years. 

The APhA has joined the equivalent doctors, anesthesiologists and nurses associations in having ethics codes that advise or restrict member participation in executions.

“Now there is unanimity among all health professions in the United States who represent anybody who might be asked to be involved in this process,” Association member Bill Fassett said.

Utah approves firing squad as back up execution method

We're very excited to welcome Finbarr Bunting, our new resident blogger. Here, Finn writes on the news that Utah is bringing back the firing squad.

Shocking news broke that Utah signed a bill into law that’ll see firing squads brought back as a method of capital punishment - making them the only state in the US to do so.

The bill itself, proposed by Rep. Senator Paul Ray states, “if substances are not available to carry out the death penalty by lethal injection on the date specified by warrant, the death penalty shall be carried out by firing squad.”

Gary Herbert, Utah’s governor, admitted he finds firing squads “gruesome” but said Utah needed an alternative method following limited supplies of lethal injection drugs.

As reported previously, European legislation put a stop to the supply of the drug cocktail used in the US for lethal injection - a staunch anti-capital punishment stance that echoes UK legislation from 2010.

Ralph Dellapiana of the Utahns for Alternatives to the Death Penalty released a statement saying “execution by firing squad sends a very graphic message that belies state leaders’ commitment to respecting and protecting all human life.”

A number of different states are looking for lethal-injection alternatives following some botched executions. Wyoming is considering the reintroduction of firing squads while Tennessee is looking at bringing back the electric chair. Worrying times indeed.

Utahns for Alternatives to the Death Penalty statement


On Thursday 6th November, we launched a crowd funding campaign to raise the critical resources we needed to finish filming The Penalty. 

30 days later, we've had 5 launch events, 500 backers and received 136% of our goal, smashing the target. We're so appreciative.

We would like to thank each and every one of your for your incredible support over the past 30 days - thanks to you we can continue making this film, something we believe has the power to be an instigator of fierce, frank debate and real change.

Right, we best get preparing perks and filming schedules - see you all on the other side!

The Penalty Team x

Gawker run exclusive clip from The Penalty

Check it out! We're only up on the front page of Gawker! They've released an exclusive snippit from the film that talks about the cost of the death penalty. 

Do you know how much the death penalty is costing you? The Penalty is a 90-minute feature-length documentary from the award-winning Webby-nominated team behind One For Ten. Lifting the lid on America's modern death penalty, the film examines the human cost of the ultimate punishment.

New York - We're coming at ya!

We've landed safe and sound in New York and are gearing up for our event tonight at Lair NYC. We're super excited to hear from Damien Echols, former death row inmate and member of the West Memphis 3 who's case was made famous by the Paradise Lost documentaries as well as West of Memphis. We're also going to be hearing from Vanessa Potkin, Senior Staff Attorney from the Innocence Project

We'll be there from 6.30, speeches start at 8! 

We can't wait to see you all there!!


Thanks San Francisco - Onwards to New York


"This is the film that's going to give the big picture approach we need to engage people"

Those are the words of Jeff Adachi, Public Defender of the City and County of San Francisco. Last night we were honoured to have Jeff speak at our San Francisco launch, alongside acclaimed journalist Nancy Mullane

We were so buoyed by the incredible support from everyone at Trou Normand, and all of the incredibly generous guests. Not only did people back the film financially, but their passion and words of support were food for the filmmaking soul. Thank you!


We're going great guns and are already 21% funded thanks to 71 backers! 

Please continue to SHARE the campaign, with your help this film WILL get made. 

Onwards to New York!

Today we make our way to the Big Apple ahead of our event there this WEDNESDAY, November 12th. If you're in the area, we hope to see you there! 

Please share the event with friends, family, long lost aunts and cousins twice removed - the more the merrier and pass the link on:

The Penalty Team x

Our Kickstarter is live!!

And we're off!! Our Kickstarter is live!!

We have an enormous amount of support from charities, organizations and individuals working in the world of the death penalty. We have ambitious plans to work alongside high schools and law schools across the country to put on debates and open up some real conversations. We have impressive partners willing to help us shape the educational arm of the film, thought leaders in learning who are behind us. The impact of this film will be big.

Right now, we don't have the funds to finish filming. We have been filming for a year and have gathered huge amounts of material, but we're not done. Our stories continue to unfold and we are now out of resources to capture them. 

Tomorrow is lift off!

It's all hands on deck preparing to kick off our crowd funding campaign TOMORROW!

We'll be celebrating the launch with events in London, San Francisco, New York and Washington D.C.  We'll be showing exclusive extended clips from the film so don't miss out on your chance to get a sneak peek at what we've been up to! We've also got incredible speakers lined up for each event. 

Over the next month we'll be needing your help to spread the word about the project as much as possible so please do get involved and help if you can. You can follow us on Twitter at @thepenaltyfilm and we're on Facebook HERE. If you'd like to chat to us about ways you can support, email Laura at


Washington D.C. launch details revealed!

The Penalty is headed to America's political heartland - D.C. we're on our way!

We're hugely honoured to be welcoming Edward J. Ungvarsky - Capital Defender for Northern Virginia and Allen L. Bohnert, Assistant Federal Public Defender for the Southern District of Ohio, Capital Habeas Unit. Allen is one of our main characters, so we're extra excited to be able to introduce him to you in person!

Hosted by the fabulous Busboys & Poets, this event is guaranteed to be a corker. Make sure you join the Facebook event right here, and invite every friend you can remember the name of. You won't want anyone blaming you for missing out. 

New York launch details revealed!

Oh hey Big Apple - we're coming to get you!  Our New York launch is GO! 

Don't miss your chance to catch us in NYC. We'll be showing exclusive extended clips, that's right folks, material that hasn't seen the light of day. 

AND the inimitable Damien Echols will be joining us to share his story. 

Sounds like a pretty unbeatable Wednesday night to us. 

Make sure you pass on the invite and join the Facebook event here to stay updated.

See you there!

San Francisco launch details revealed!

We are eternally grateful to the generous folk over at Bar Agricole, for giving us their stunning sister restaurant Trou Normand for our launch. We seriously can't thank them enough. Make sure you check 'em out and give them heaps of love - our karma debt to them is significant. Oh! And if you don't already know how visually awesome the space is, you better get down to our event to find out. 

We're honoured and beside ourselves in equal measure to be welcoming acclaimed journalist Nancy Mullane and Public Defender of the City & County of San Francisco Jeff Adachi to speak. West Coasters - be there or miss out!

The official invitation is below. Put the date in your diary, and pass it on. And to stay up to speed with exciting new developments, head over to our Facebook event right here. 

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Save the date, we're throwing some parties!

To launch our crowdfund to finish the filming of The Penalty, we're doing some very special events in a few key cities from the 6th of November to the 13th and you're invited. At each event, we'll be introducing our new project, showing some exclusive clips and hearing from some of the world's experts on the death penalty in the USA. If you're in London, San Francisco, New York or Washington DC, we'd love to see you there. There are some event pages over on our facebook page with more info and we'll be updating here in days to come.