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July 16, 1973

Homicides and The Death Penalty

Author Affiliations

Mays Landing, NJ

JAMA. 1973;225(3):313. doi:10.1001/jama.1973.03220300069026

To the Editor.—  Studies that have looked at the deterrent effect of the death penalty on the incidence of homicide have compared locales with the death penalty to locales without the death penalty.1 This comparison is not psychologically meaningful. The death penalty, if it were a deterrent, would be so only in those areas where it is carried out. To have the death penalty in a region, but never to execute anyone, is equivalent to not having a death penalty.This letter reports data on the effect of executions in a given year on the change in the number of homicides from that year to the next year. The locales studied were the United States from 1955 to 1965 (after which there were too few executions by the states for an effective study. The data on executions by state each year and the number of homicides came from publications