Research Suggests Justifications for Capital Punishment Place Onus on Victim’s Family Members

In a recent edition of the Western Criminology Review, researchers Thomas J. Mowen and Ryan D. Schroeder propose that historic justifications for capital punishment, such as deterrence, savings, and safety, have been replaced by calls for retribution and closure. Citing numerous victim’s family member statements, Mowen and Schroeder argue that victim’s family members now expect to receive closure from a “uniform” court system that is unable to deliver “emotional satisfaction that is highly contextual and individualized.” Mowen and Schroeder also cite a 2007 study that reported only 2.5 percent of victim’s family members found “the execution of the offender actually gave true closure.” In closing the article, Mowen and Schroeder state that, “The American public continues to support capital punishment for the most atrocious crimes, mainly on the basis of promoting closure to victim’s families through retribution, but evolving victim clemency movements and the prior research on covictim closure through capital punishment both suggest that the contemporary justifications for the death penalty do not accord with lived experiences of covictims.”

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