Human civilizations have used the death penalty in their set of laws for over 4,000 years. There have been times when only a few crimes receive this consequence, while some societies, such as the seventh century B.C.’s Code of Athens required the punishment for all crimes to be death.
The death penalty in the United States came about because of the influences from the colonial era. The first recorded execution in the colonies occurred in 1608 in Jamestown. Captain George Kendall was executed for being a spy for Spain. It only took four more years for Virginia tech institute the death penalty for minor offenses such as stealing grapes or trading with Native Americans.
Capital punishment is reserve today for brutal and heinous crimes, such as first-degree murder. Some countries expand the death penalty for repetitive violent crime, such as rape, sexual assault, or specific drug offenses. The reason why it continues to be in criminal justice systems is that spending life in prison is a disproportionate penalty compared to the actions that were taken.
These are the death penalty pros and cons to review as we head into 2020 and beyond.
List of the Pros of the Death Penalty
1. It is a way to provide justice for victims well keeping the general population safe.
There is an expectation in society that you should be able to live your life without the threat of harm. When there is someone who decides to go against this expectation by committing a violent crime, then there must be steps taken to provide everyone else the safety that they deserve. Although arguments can be made for rehabilitation, there are people who would continue their violent tendencies no matter what. The only way to keep people safe in those circumstances, and still provide a sense of justice for the victims, is the use of the death penalty.
2. It provides a deterrent against serious crimes.
The reason why there are consequences in place for criminal violations is that we want to have a deterrent effect on specific behaviors. People who are considering a breach of the law must see that the consequences of their actions are worse if they go through without action compared to following the structures society.
Although up to 88% of criminologists in the United States report that capital punishment is not an effective deterrent to homicide, the fact that it can prevent some violence does make it a useful structure to have in society.
3. It offers a respectful outcome.
Two critical elements of justice in modern societies involve punishments for criminal behavior that do not involve cruelty or unusual circumstances. That structure has led the United States to implement capital punishment which involves lethal injections. Although some regions struggle to purchase the necessary drugs to administer this consequence, the process of putting someone to sleep before they stop breathing in their heart stops beating eliminates the pain and negative outcomes associated with other execution methods.
Modern processes are much more compassionate compared to hanging, firing squads, or other gruesome methods of taking a life under the law.
4. It maintains prison populations at manageable levels.
Over 2 million people are currently part of the prison population in the United States. About one in five people currently in jails across the country are awaiting trial for charges that they face. That is about the same amount of people who are labeled as being violent offenders. By separating those who are convicted of a capital crime, we create more room for the individuals who are willing to work and rehabilitation programs to better their lives in the future. This structure makes it possible to limit the financial and spatial impacts which occur when all serious crime requires long-term prisoner care.
5. It offers society an appropriate consequence for violent behavior.
There are times when rehabilitation should be the top priority for criminals. Then there are times when violent conduct is the preferred behavior for a criminal. By keeping capital punishment as an option within society, we create an appropriate consequence that fits the actions taken by the criminal. The death penalty ensures that the individual involved will no longer be able to create havoc for the general population because they are no longer around. That process creates peace for the victims, their families, and the society in general.
6. It eliminates sympathetic reactions to the criminal charged with a capital crime.
The United States offers a confrontational system of justice because that is an effective way to address the facts of the case. We should make decisions based on logic instead of emotion. The lawn must be able to address the actions of a criminal in a way that discourages other people from deciding to conduct themselves in a similar manner. Our goal should be to address the needs of each victim and their family more than it should be to address the physical needs of the person charged with a capital crime.
7. It stops the threat of an escape that alternative sentences would create.
The fastest way to stop a murderer from continuing to kill people is to eliminate their ability to do so. That is what capital punishment does. The death penalty makes it impossible for someone convicted of murder to find ways that kill other people. Failing to execute someone who is taking a life unjustly, who that is able to kill someone else, puts all of us into a place of responsibility for that action. Although there are issues from a moral standpoint about taking any life, we must remember that the convicted criminal made the decision to violate the law in the first place, knowing full well what their potential outcome would be.
List of the Cons of the Death Penalty
1. It requires one person to kill another person.
In an op ad published by the New York Times, S. Frank Thompson discussed his experience in executing to inmates while serving as the superintendent of the Oregon State Penitentiary. He talked about how the death penalty laws forced him to be personally involved in these executions. He came to a point where on the moral level, life had to either be honored or not. His job requires him to kill someone else. Whether someone takes at life through criminal means, or they do so through legal means, there is still an impact on that individual which is unpredictable.
2. It comes with constitutional defects in the United States.
In the 1970s, the Supreme Court of the United States effectively punted the idea of having capital punishment being legal to the states. The goal was to create a system where there would be limitations on the suffering of a prisoner sentenced to death row by allowing states to create their own laws and procedures.
After four decades of surveys, studies, and experiences with the death penalty, there are three specific defects which continue to exist. There is unreliability in the systems that are used to put prisoners to death, we have delays that can last for 20 years or more before initiating a sentence, and the application of capital punishment is arbitrary. That is why many places have simply abandoned its use.
3. It does not have a positive impact on homicide rates.
The United States implement it the death penalty 35 times in 2014. Crime statistics for that year indicating that there were 14,000 murders committed. Any criminal caught facing a consequence that involved spending their life in prison would find that outcome to be far more devastating than the idea that they might be put to death one day after they grow old. People who don’t think that they’ll be cut for their actions don’t really care what the law has to say because they don’t expect to ever spend time in jail in the first place.
Statistics on crime actually show that when the death penalty is abolished, replaced with a guaranteed life in prison, there are few were violent acts committed which put a person’s life at risk.
4. It creates a revenge factor, which may not best serve justice.
No one can blame families were victims for wanting justice. There is enough justification because of their pain and loss to even understand concepts like vengeance. The problem that we have with the death penalty, however, is that it implements only one form of justice. You’re creating within society this idea that if you do something to me, I get to do the exact same thing back to you.
The purpose of justice is to create a circumstance where there is a legitimate high ground for morality. If we permit the state to kill people as a consequence for their own murderous decisions, then we devalue life itself. Just because we have the law on our side does not mean putting someone to death is a decision which is morally correct.
5. It costs more to implement the death penalty.
The average case brought to trial which involves the death penalty creates a taxpayer cost of $1.26 million. Cases that are taken to a jury which do not involve capital punishment have an average cost of $740,000. Even when you compare the costs of maintaining a prisoner in the general population compared to keeping someone on death row, taxpayers save money by avoiding the death penalty.
Maintaining a prisoner on death row costs $90,000 more per year then keeping that person in the general population. When one considers the cost in keeping someone on death row for 20 years or more, it is cheaper to send someone to life in prison without the possibility of parole in most states that it is to put them to death.
6. It comes with a risk that an innocent person could be executed.
Although we like to think that our criminal justice systems are perfect, they are far from it. In the past few years, there have been over 150 people taken off of death row because evidence showed that they were innocent of the crime for which they were convicted. We would like to think that no one who is innocent would encounter this penalty, but the reality is that this is not the case.
There are several cases where prosecutors knowingly withheld exculpatory information. There are times when the justice system introduces false pieces of evidence against defendants because they’re looking to create specific metrics. People can be coerced into entering a guilty plea, or admitting their guilt, because of external pressures placed on them. That is not justice.
7. It does not always provide the sense of justice that families require.
Research published in 2012 by the Marquette Law Review found that the family of the victim experience higher levels of psychological, physical, and behavioral health when the convicted criminal who tore the family apart is sentenced to life in prison instead of given a capital punishment consequence. The death penalty might be considered an ultimate form of justice, but it does not always provide the satisfaction people think it will once it is administered.
8. It does not seek alternative solutions.
There are numerous ways to prevent someone from breaking out of a president to hurt someone else. About one in every nine people in the U.S. is the population is currently serving a life sentence. Many more are serving a sentence that keeps them in prison for the rest of their lives because it will last for 15 years or more. Crime is at historic lows, but life sentences are nearly 5 times higher today than they were in the 1980s. Most of these prisoners never escape.
In 2013, the rate of escape from prison dropped by more than 50%, falling to just 10.5 escapees per 10,000 prisoners.
9. It automatically assumes that the person in question cannot be rehabilitated.
There will always be people who decide they want to live outside of societal norms. It is true that these people may never successfully go through a rehabilitation process after committing a crime. What the death penalty does make an assumption about what the outcome will be for each person convicted of a crime. There are no meaningful ways for capital punishment to offer a way to make amends. It suggests that there is no other way to help society except to get rid of that person who committed the crime. That could be a dangerous precedent to set because the suggestion is that society should get rid of anyone based on their unwillingness to follow group expectations.
These death penalty pros and cons I’m not intended to serve as a moral framework for what everyone should believe. There are legitimate reasons why capital punishment is a useful tool within societies. There are also specific outcomes that happen when the death penalty gets taken off the table, which benefits everyone too. That is why these critical points must continue to be discussed so that we all can come to the best possible decision as we keep one another safe.