There have been claims for decades that in the United States the death penalty serves as a deterrent. When there are executions, violent crime decreases. But there have also been claims that executions “brutalize” society because government agencies diminish respect for life when the death penalty is applied. With brutalization comes an increase in violent crime, and especially homicides. Both sides assert that there is credible research supporting their position.
From the 1970s until about 2010, the number of individuals incarcerated in state prisons, federal prisons, and local jails increased dramatically. The main drivers were (1) changes in laws leading to longer, often mandatory, sentences, (2) "truth-in-sentencing" legislation requiring individuals convicted of violent crimes to serve at least 80% of their sentences, and (3) increased use of incarceration for drug-related crimes. Since then, there have been concerted efforts in some jurisdictions to reduce the number of individuals incarcerated.
With all of publicity surrounding crime statistics, it is easy to get a misleading impression about the risks that homicides pose. Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control can provide a factual basis from which to assess the real risks.
In the United States, there are several different, but common, definitions of mass shootings. The Congressional Research Service defines mass shootings, as multiple, firearm, homicide incidents, involving 4 or more victims at one or more locations close to one another. The FBI definition is essentially the same. Often there is a distinction made between private and public mass shootings (e.g., a school, place of worship, or a business establishment). Mass shootings undertaken by foreign terrorists are not included, no matter how many people die or where the shooting occurs.
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