Capital punishment, which some also call the death penalty, has been around in society for hundreds of years. Ever since it began, there have been discussions as to whether it is morally right, and as to whether it actually deters criminals. Some believe that the prospect of being put to death often stops criminals from committing violent acts. Others believe exactly the opposite, stating that those that commit violent crimes are driven to do so for various reasons and whether they have the chance of being put to death or not, it will not stop them from doing what they feel they must do.
Both sides of the argument will be addressed here so that conclusions can be drawn from the information presented that will hopefully shed some light on the debate and determine which side is correct.
Argument for the Death Penalty
Those that argue for the death penalty state that, not only does it keep the person in question from committing any more violent acts, but it also serves as a lesson for those that are considering these types of acts in the future. It is not only the United States that has this problem, as many other countries are also concerned about crime rates (Bedau, 1998). In some other countries, there are people that feel that doing away with the death penalty offers no deterrent for those that would rape and murder innocent people for some reason, or sometimes for no real reason at all.
It is believed that the criminal element that is aware of the death penalty will spend more time considering whether the act they are thinking of committing is worth the price that they might ultimately have to pay. The opinion is that many criminals will feel that risking their life for the violent act is not worth the price, and they will refrain from committing these kinds of crimes. Few people, even criminals, have a death wish, and it is believed that this lack of desire for their own death will keep them from causing the deaths of others. Despite opposition from those that believe the death penalty should be stopped, some statistics do show that the number of murders does rise when the death penalty is not in force, and this number falls when the death penalty is reinstated.
Another point of this argument is that the death penalty brings closure for the victims of the families that have lost loved ones. There is apparently a satisfaction, at least for some, upon seeing these people give up their life at the hands of the government. The chapter of their lives that dealt with that person has come to an end, and they can finally feel that they can move on with their lives. This is somewhat related to violent crime, in that there is always the possibility that survivors who have lost loved ones would consider taking their vengeance out on others because of their pain and sorrow, and this could lead to even more violent crimes.
Argument Against the Death Penalty
Recent polls of police chiefs in various areas of the country indicate that a large majority of them believe that the death penalty is no deterrent to violent crime. It ranks last on their lists of how they should go about reducing violent crime, and studies have shown that it is no better at reducing crime than the possibility of life in prison without any chance of parole. This is interesting, in the face of the argument that the death penalty reduces the number of violent crimes that are committed. Studies have also shown that, contrary to the popular opinion that the death penalty brings closure, most people do not feel that watching someone else die helps them to move on in any way. Sometimes it seems to profane the name of the lost loved one by associating yet another death with it. The death of the loved one is painful enough without adding to it.
Mainly, opponents of the death penalty argue that:
those contemplating criminal activities do not rationally weigh the benefits and costs of their actions,
the costs associated with obtaining a death penalty conviction are larger than the costs associated with providing lifetime imprisonment,
in a world of imperfect information, innocent individuals may be convicted and executed before exonerating information is discovered, and
the death penalty has disproportionately been applied in cases in which the defendant is nonwhite or the victim is white.
There are other arguments, but the most effective argument against the death penalty as a deterrent for violent crime appears to be the fact that crime has not gone down simply because the death penalty is out there. States that have it do not have lower crime rates on average than states that do not have it, and that would indicate that the death penalty in and of itself is not stopping people from committing violent acts.
Crime, including violent crime, has been with society virtually since the beginning, and it will remain with society until it ends. Nothing will stop some people from committing violent acts, and the death penalty does not appear to be the answer. Sometimes, innocent lives are lost to this process, and many times the families of the victims do not experience the kind of closure that one would hope for simply because the offender has been executed. Since it would appear that even law enforcement does not see the death penalty as an answer to the problems of crime in society, one wonders why it is allowed to continue.