Twenty years ago, 42 nations practiced the death penalty. Today that number has dwindled to 22. China remains the world’s leader, but the exact number of executions there is a state secret. Following China are those bastions of enlightenment—Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and, in fifth place, the United States. That’s shameful company. Although the annual number of U.S. executions has declined, we are still an outlier in the supposedly civilized First World.
Defenders of the death penalty argue that it is a deterrent against homicide, but if that were true, we would expect the states with the highest per capita rates of execution—Oklahoma, Texas and Delaware—to have the lowest murder rates. They don’t. All three rank in the top 50th percentile, while three states with no death penalty—Vermont, Hawaii and Iowa—have the lowest per capita murder rates. In actual fact, no study in the world has proven a correlation between capital punishment and effective deterrence.