Why Kids and Killers Don't Just Say No

Random drug tests don't faze kids, and capital punishment doesn't stop murders.

ByABC News
October 22, 2007, 11:42 AM

Oct. 22, 2007— -- What would stop you from doing drugs? Or committing a murder?

For most of us, the prospect of jail time for smoking a joint -- or going to death row for pulling a trigger -- would make us think twice about committing these crimes. Yet these consequences don't factor into the decisions of many, which has many experts questioning such deterrents as drug testing and capital punishment.

In a study published late last week in the Journal of Adolescent Health, researchers found that the deterrent impact of random drug testing in high school student athletes left much to be desired.

"We found that drug testing did not decrease drug use among young adults," says study author Dr. Diane Elliot, a professor of medicine at the Oregon Health and Science University. "Drug testing is not the silver bullet that is going to stop students using drugs in high schools."

There are many deterrents in life, from detention for bad classroom behavior to fines for parking illegally. In theory, a fear of retribution makes people behave in a certain way, but some experts believe the practical application of this theory has not been effective.

"It is very clear that deterrents are not effective in the area of capital punishment," says Dr. Jonathan Groner, an associate professor of surgery at the Ohio State University College of Medicine and Public Health, who researches the purported deterrent effect of capital punishment.

"The threat of death does not deter people from committing capital crime, especially murder," he says. "There was a case here in Ohio of a police officer who murdered his wife. As a law enforcement officer, he knew the consequences, but he still committed the crime."

And there are several reasons to explain why people still commit crimes or take drugs, even though they know they might be punished for their actions. In some cases, deterrents don't work because people don't think clearly in the heat of the moment.

"The psychological mind-set of the criminal is such that they are not able to consider consequences at the time of the crime," says Groner. "Most crimes are crimes of passion that are done in situations involving intense excitement or concern.