Executions, Deterrence and Homicide: A Tale of Two Cities

54 Pages Posted: 21 Jul 2009 Last revised: 9 Sep 2009

See all articles by Franklin Zimring

Franklin Zimring

University of California at Berkeley

Jeffrey Fagan

Columbia Law School

David T. Johnson

University of Hawaii at Manoa

Date Written: August 31, 2009


We compare homicide rates in two quite similar cities with vastly different execution risks. Singapore had an execution rate close to 1 per million per year until an explosive twentyfold increase in 1994-95 and 1996-97 to a level that we show was probably the highest in the world. Then over the next 11 years, Singapore executions dropped by about 95%. Hong Kong, by contrast,has no executions all during the last generation and abolished capital punishment in 1993. Homicide levels and trends are remarkably similar in these two cities over the 35 years after 1973, with neither the surge in Singapore executions nor the more recent steep drop producing any differential impact. By comparing two closely matched places with huge contrasts in actual execution but no differences in homicide trends, we have generated a unique test of the exuberant claims of deterrence that have been produced over the past decade in the U.S.

Keywords: Capital punishment, deterrence, homicide

JEL Classification: K14

Suggested Citation

Zimring, Franklin E. and Fagan, Jeffrey and Johnson, David T., Executions, Deterrence and Homicide: A Tale of Two Cities (August 31, 2009). Columbia Public Law Research Paper No. 09-206, CELS 2009 4th Annual Conference on Empirical Legal Studies Paper, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1436993 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1436993

Franklin E. Zimring

University of California at Berkeley ( email )

215 Law Building
Berkeley, CA 94720-7200
United States

Jeffrey Fagan (Contact Author)

Columbia Law School ( email )

435 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10027
United States
212-854-2624 (Phone)
212-854-7946 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.law.columbia.edu/fac/Jeffrey_Fagan

David T. Johnson

University of Hawaii at Manoa ( email )

Honolulu, HI 96822
United States

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