Thesis: The death of a Death Row inmate has profound, and in some cases very similar, psychological effects on both the defendants own families and the families of the murder victims, showing that far from healing wounds and giving closure, capital punishment actually creates more grieving and trauma for everyone involved.
Capital punishment is the harshest punishment that any court of law can administer to a convicted prisoner, as the offender is sentenced to death. This state sanctioned decision to end someone’s life is unique in its severity and finality and the repercussions on all those involved are immense. When anyone close to us dies, most people experience grief, which is universal but in the case of deaths as a result of the death penalty, the impact on the grieving process is both exaggerated and distorted for everyone involved.
II. Background on Capital Punishment
The first recorded death penalty laws were recorded in the Eighteenth Century BC in Babylon. In ancient Greece the death penalty was applied for the crimes of murder, treason, rape and arson and the Romans also applied capital punishment for a number of crimes. Various means of death used included crucifixion, drowning, beating to death, burning alive, and impalement. By the Tenth Century BC Capital Punishment by hanging became the normal method of applying the death penalty in Great Britain. Although the death penalty was briefly banned in Britain during the reign of William the Conqueror, this did not last and by the Eighteenth Century over 222 crimes were punishable by the death penalty including stealing rabbits (5). This led to jury’s finding the prisoners not guilty as the punishment far outweighed the crime. When the first settlers landed in America, they brought with them the tradition of capital punishment and in the uncertain and brutal times that existed in the early days in America, capital punishment was seen as the only means of deterring violent crime.
As the 20th century progressed, the death penalty was abandoned as a method of punishment in much of the world or only used for exceptional crimes. In 2012 per Amnesty International, only 21 countries applied the death penalty, with America executing the third highest amount of offenders (46). Only China and Saudi Arabia executed more people. Within America 18 states have now abandoned the death.
Capital Punishment sparks intense controversy with those in favor of retaining the death penalty arguing that the religious ideas of justice, “an eye for an eye” should apply for the most heinous crimes. The idea of the punishment fitting the crime has long been a stalwart of judicial systems but in reality a more abstract form of justice has come to prevail in most of the modern western world. Instead of beating a man who has committed an assault or taking his property if he has stolen something, the criminal law applies varies prison terms that is seen to punish the offender according to the severity of the crime and protect the community at large. In Saudi Arabia, where this “eye for an eye” justice is applied across the board, as it is based on strict Islamic Law, capital punishment fits into a larger justice system but in America where religion and law are separate, it seems odd that the old testament beliefs of an “eye for an eye” still applies to the crime of murder. Supporters of the death penalty also argue that the death penalty acts as a deterrent to the crime of murder in America and provides closure for the grieving families of the victims of the murder. In reality, murder rates are usually determined more by poverty and drug activities, then whether the country has the death penalty as a form of punishment. We will examine further the claims that the death penalty brings this sense of closure to the victim’s family when we examine the...