Do prison conditions have more of a deterrent effect on crime than the death penalty?

Previous research has attempted to identify a deterrent effect of capital punishment. We argue that the quality of life in prison is likely to have a greater impact on criminal behavior than the death penalty. Using state-level panel data covering the period 1950–90, we demonstrate that the death rate among prisoners (the best available proxy for prison conditions) is negatively correlated with crime rates, consistent with deterrence. This finding is shown to be quite robust. In contrast, there is little systematic evidence that the execution rate influences crime rates in this time period.

Source: “Prison Conditions, Capital Punishment, and Deterrence” from American Law and Economics Review V5 N2 2003 (318-343)

Great nonfiction crime books are “Low Life”, “Homicide”, “The Big Con”, Codes of the Underworld: How Criminals Communicate, The Hot House: Life Inside Leavenworth Prison, Donnie Brasco and Wiseguy, which inspired GoodFellas.

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