May 10, 2010
The question regarding whether the United States should implement the death penalty as a form of punishment is a heated issue in American politics. The topic is so divisive because it deals with death, which is permanent. Life is valued in every society, and when life is taken away, emotions rise. Most human beings maintain a strong underlying fear of dying, so they wish to prevent their own death, especially their murder, at any cost. Furthermore, since crime is a prevalent problem in the U.S., Americans yearn for a successful way to reduce the homicide rate. However, most Americans do not favor the use of the death penalty when other options, such as life in prison without parole plus restitution, are presented (Dieter). By comparing the empirical and moral claims of the arguments in favor and against the use of the death penalty, we suggest that the presidential candidate take a cautiously anti-death penalty stance. The key issues involve whether the U.S. should sustain the current death penalty system, abolish it in favor of life in prison without parole plus restitution, or only reform the system to make it less costly and free of class, racial, and mental illness discrepancies. Many people have a stake in the issue. Organizations such as Amnesty International and the American Civil Liberties Union are against the death penalty because they claim it is a cruel and unusual form of punishment, while other groups such as the National Center for Policy Analysis support the death penalty because they believe that life sentences do not deter homicide. Furthermore, victims’ families have a stake in the issue because they deserve justice for their murdered loved ones, and convicted murders have a stake because their own lives are in jeopardy as they sit on death row. Most importantly, all the citizens of the United States are involved in the matter, since the way in which we punish crime affects public safety. Death penalty supporters believe that capital punishment is the only sure way to deter murderers from committing murders again. “The argument that murderers are the least likely of all criminals to repeat their crimes is not only irrelevant, but also increasingly false. Six percent of young adults paroled in 1978 after having been convicted of murder were arrested for murder again within six years of release” (Death Penalty Paper). The death penalty is the only absolute punishment for severe crimes, preventing convicted criminals from committing crimes again. “Obviously, those executed can’t murder again” (Death Penalty Paper). Furthermore, death penalty supporters argue that the concern should be in saving the lives of potential victims, not protecting the rights of the criminals. “Of the roughly 52,000 state prison inmates serving time for murder in 1984, an estimated 810 had previously been convicted of murder and had killed 821 persons following their previous murder convictions. Executing each of these inmates would have saved 821 lives” (Death Penalty Paper). Ernest van den Haag, a Professor of Jurisprudence at Fordham University who has closely studied deterrence, wrote: Even though statistical demonstrations are not conclusive, and perhaps cannot be, capital punishment is likely to deter more than other punishments because people fear death more than anything else. They fear most death deliberately inflicted by law and schedule by the courts. Whatever people fear the most is likely to deter the most. Hence, the threat of the death penalty may deter some murderers who otherwise might not have been deterred (Deterrence: In Support).
Thus, death penalty supporters claim that even the possibility that capital punishment will deter murderers from murdering again is enough reason to maintain the system. However, by comparing national homicide rates, it is clear that the death penalty does not deter crime. A study on the...