The debate about the death penalty is one that has plagued the United States for decades. Both proponents and opponents of capital punishment provide sound arguments about the same. However, at the end of it all, there cannot be two conclusions, that the death penalty is both appropriate and inappropriate, that it is both effective and ineffective. There can only be a single winner in this debate, one that presents the soundest argument, one whose arguments are backed up by facts and not just mere opinion. The major question we are all left with is "Is the death penalty effective?" This essay will seek to establish the fact that the death penalty is ineffective and should, in fact, be abolished in its totality.
A capital punishment which involves the killing of the criminal is a form of punishment that is practiced in a majority of states- 31 to be exact. The state of Texas has the leading execution statistics of criminals sentenced and handed capital punishment. However, is this method of punishment effective? To answer this question, it is important to first define what an effective form of punishment is meant to accomplish. It is globally accepted that punishment from a court of law is aimed at accomplishing two main objectives:
- Reprimand a criminal and attempt to correct the criminal's ill behaviors.
- To serve as a lesson to the general public and the criminal against committing such crime in the future.
From the above two definitions, it is easy to establish the methodology to measure what an effective form of punishment is considered to be. In the first requirement, the punishment must be in a way that is unfavorable to the criminal such that they not only feel and acknowledge their guilt but also that efforts are made to correct this criminal behavior. The second requirement is that the form of punishment applied serves as deterrence tool against similar circumstances in the future, both on the part of the criminal and the society at large. With a careful analysis of the death penalty, it is easy to see that it fails to fully satisfy any of the above functions.
Shortcomings of the Death Sentence
Many people such as Edward Koch, in his paper 'Death and Justice: How Capital Punishment Affirms Life', affirm that the death penalty is effective. This is despite their 'supposed' study of the argument from both sides. Koch states that unlike common belief, the death sentence is in no way barbaric (Koch, 13). Most of the states that execute criminals today use lethal injection. This injection supposedly kills the nerves of the criminal before stopping their heart. As such the convicted criminal feels no pain during the death.
However, a simple study into this 'allegations' by Koch would prove otherwise. The chemicals used to kill the criminals are the same ones that are illegal to use on animals. The major irony in this situation needs no explanation. A chemical that has been judged unconstitutional and illegal to use to put down rabid dogs is used to put down humans (Nolan)? It is without gainsaying that this is the height of hypocrisy and barbarism.
Researchers and other pundits have conducted research on the issue testing the question of "Is capital punishment deterrent?" using different hypotheses. Numbers never lie. The research conducted has come up with surprising statistics that are unanimous in their conclusion- the death sentence is not deterrent. It is easy to wonder how these conclusions were arrived at and as such, it is important to review the literature presented by the researchers.
Benjamin S. Tyree published a paper titled 'Does the Death Penalty Deter Crime' in which he addressed the issue of concern. At this point, it is important to note that the effectiveness of punishment can only be evaluated using two aspects- its ability to reform the criminal and its ability to deter similar crime. Additionally, it is important to understand in trying to measure the effectiveness of capital punishment it is impossible to measure the first aspect of the punishment's ability to reform. The reasons behind this are clear and need no emphasis. As such it is only possible to measure its deterrence success.
In Tyree's research paper he started with two hypotheses:
- In states where capital punishment exists, there are low levels of crimes that qualify for capital punishment when compared with states where capital punishment is not recognized (Tyree, 1).
- In states where capital punishment (execution) is actually carried out, the rates of a crime punishable by execution are much lower than in states where execution is not carried out after conviction and states that do not recognize it as a form of punishment (Tyree, 1).
The research made use of first-degree murder crime statistics since these formed the overwhelming majority of capital punishment convictions. For the first hypotheses, the states of Virginia and Massachusetts were examined with Virginia recognizing the death penalty and executing the second highest number of inmates and with capital punishment inexistent in Massachusetts (deathpenaltyinfo.org). The following data was obtained
To test the second hypotheses, the state of Missouri and Montana were used. The state of Missouri recognizes and executes inmates while Montana does not (deathpenaltyinfo.org). The following were the statistics for violent and murder crimes that qualify for capital punishment.
In the first case despite Virginia recognizing and using capital punishment, the crime rates remained relatively high when compared to those of Massachusetts. In the second set of data, Missouri which executed inmates experienced a high rate of crime that is punishable by death than Montana if the same laws were applied there. These findings clearly show the shortcomings of the death penalty. It neither seeks to reform the criminal nor does it deter further crime.
Ray Jasper, a death row inmate was executed in 2014. However, prior to his execution, Jasper wrote a letter to criticize and highlight the injustice committed by the upholding of the death sentence. In his argument, Jasper put across important issues which are true but are largely ignored. First, he talked about the issue of race. Statistics show that a majority of people on death row are black (Tyree). Jasper put across the issue of systematic racism in finding the majority of these black men guilty. To illustrate his point, Jasper gives an ideal example- imagine a white man in a court of law facing capital punishment where everybody from the judge, the jury to the very lawyers representing the white man are black? Does the white man expect to get justice (Nolan)?
Jasper further criticizes the very basis of capital punishment using the state of Texas as an example. According to Texas' laws, for one to face capital punishment, it is necessary that the individual has committed murder and another felony at the same time (Nolan). Summarily, it is possible to murder and not face capital punishment but impossible to murder and steal $500 from the victim and not face capital punishment (Nolan). This clearly shows that the laws are not intent on upholding the sacredness of human life by punishing murder but are punishing the additional felony after the murder. With all these evidence, it is clear that not only is the death penalty ineffective in all aspects but also that it should be done away with.
Death Penalty Information Center. Executions in the United States. (2018). Retrieved from https://deathpenaltyinfo.org/executions-united-states
Koch, Edward I. "Death and justice: How capital punishment affirms life." The New Republic (1985): 13-15.
Nolan Hamilton. "A Letter from Ray Jasper Who is about to be Executed." gawker.com. Retrieved from http://gawker.com/a-letter-from-ray-jasper-who-is-about-to-be-executed-1536073598Tyree, Benjamin S. "Does the Death Penalty Deter Crime?" (2005).
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