Capital Punishment Essay, Research Paper
Since the beginning of recorded history, mankind has made use of the idea of capital punishment. Most ancient societies accepted the notion that certain crimes deserved the death penalty. The idea of a crime punishable by death dates far back to Ancient Rome and the laws passed at that time. Till this day, however, there is still much debate as to whether or not capital punishment should be abolished. Although there are numerous arguments for and against the situation, the only way to fully understand something is to look at the death penalty from both standing viewpoints. When discussing capital punishment, many questions are asked. Is it morally just? Is it an effective punishment? Is it applied fairly? Is it successful in discouraging potential criminals? While there is much evidence to show that the death penalty is in fact successful, the moral and social issues governing it seem to point out that capital punishment should in fact be abolished. (Atkinson, 1991)
Is capital punishment successful in discouraging potential offenders, or is it simply a penalty which does not strike fear into the criminals of today?s society? While there is no more a harsher penalty than that of death, many criminals do in fact fear the death penalty. The death penalty deters murder by putting the fear of death into would be killers. (Atkinson, 1991) A person is less likely to do something, if he or she thinks that harm will come to him. Another way the death penalty deters murder, is the fact that if the killer is dead, he will not be able to kill again. Most supporters of the death penalty feel that offenders should be punished for their crimes, and that it does not matter whether it will deter the crime rate. (Atkinson, 1991) Supporters of the death penalty are in favour of making examples out of offenders, and that the threat of death will be enough to deter the crime rate, but the crime rate is irrelevant. Experts continue to say that increasing the amount of executions does in fact deter murders throughout the country (Insert figure 1). According to Isaac Ehrlich’s study, published on April 16, 1976, eight murders are deterred for each execution that is carried out in the U.S.A. He goes on to say, “If one execution of a guilty capital murderer deters the murder of one innocent life, the execution is justified.” (Patterson, 1995) Punishments should remain as severe as possible, for that is the only way to discourage today?s criminals from committing a capital offence. (Forbes, 1996)
While deterrence is the most frequently made and widely accepted argument in favor of the death penalty, why is it then that the states which do inflict the death penalty, are those with this highest murder rates? (Insert figure 2) While some may conclude that Capital punishment does have its effect on potential offenders, the opposition suggests that there is no conclusive evidence that the death penalty has any impact on the rate of crime. A recent study shows that in asking 1000 inmates in California?s Matherson Prison on the question of the death penalty, 63% said life in jail is far worse than the death penalty. Capital punishment is no more effective a deterrent then prolonged incarceration. (Forbes, 1996)
Is the death penalty a moral or immoral punishment? Capital punishment comes from the idea of retribution. This widely held concept dates back to ancient civilizations and the Mosaic Code. The idea of ?an eye for an eye? has long been used by many societies and was a basic principle regarding punishments, especially murder. Many of the ancient rulers, and to some effect even today?s leaders, feel that if you take someone?s life it is only sensible for you to lose yours. The death penalty may be considered morally right in the sense that it gives the criminals their ?just deserts? and also provides the victims? family?s with a sense of relief that their loved one?s killer will not be able to murder again.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, there is much evidence that points to the death penalty as immoral. While it may have been socially accepted thousands of years ago to execute people for their crimes, many people in today?s society feel today that the death penalty is immorally unjust. Capital punishment is viewed as barbaric. Executions are seen as a form of institutionalized violence. Use of the death penalty accustoms a society to violence and hardens its members to the suffering. (Patterson, 1995) ?The death penalty is viewed as a circle of tragedy. It doesn?t end suffering, it prolongs it. It doesn?t limit the tragedy, it widens it.? This is a quote from senator Joseph Travis on his issue of capital punishment. (Forbes, 1996) We have come a long way from historic times. Society is a moral unity, and therefore, an offense by one harms the well-being of all. Today we have the ability to rehabilitate those instead of killing them, which may be considered inhumane and barbaric.
There are several more reasons why capital punishment should be abolished. It is not an effective punishment. It is a proven fact that incarceration of a prisoner for 40 years is substantially less costly than going through the full legal process necessary to put a person to death. (Atkinson, 1991) Criminal justice process expenses, trial court costs, appellate and post-conviction costs, and prison costs perhaps including years served on death row awaiting execution all told, the extra costs per death penalty imposed in over a quarter million dollars, and per executi