Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. These are our three unalienable rights, the rights that no one could ever take away from us. Or can they? The death penalty has been apart of capital punishment ever since the start of man. Now comes the question, should it still be enforced?
The death penalty has been around since the beginning of human existence. Until 1608 humans were brutally tortured or even murdered for petty crimes. There’s a list of infamous torture methods ranging from stoning someone, to hanging, to even stretching an individual’s limbs till they ripped off. In 1608 William the Conqueror found that these types of punishments were considered inhumane for such petty crimes. He stared to make rules based around the death penalty and came up with, no person should be murdered for a crime that didn’t include murder. Unfortunately the insane torture methods still persisted until the U.S. Constitution was made in 1787. The U.S. Constitution established rules based on capital punishment and what was considered inhumane. Summoning an individual to the guillotine was the most widely accepted way of executing someone based on capital punishment after the Constitution. Lastly came the death penalty rights of 1943. The rights established that the only humane way to execute someone was to euthanize them. This is the current method that we use today. Even with the death being painless and fairly quick, the punishment is still up for controversy. Does the government have the right to take away an individual’s life? Doesn’t that go against our constitutional unalienable rights?
One reason why the death penalty should be more widely accepted is to increase safety. Safety is needed everywhere from jails, to the community, to the individual themself. Starting off with jails. Jails are extremely overcrowded in America. We have the highest incarceration rate of any other country. Let alone we have the highest amount of death row inmates compared to any other country. We currently have 2,705 inmates on death row. This is 2,705 dangerous inmates that guards have to be accountable for. How can we ensure that both the guards and inmates will stay safe. The simple solution to this is to enforce the death penalty more so than it already is. Inmates should have a maximum of 10 years to be held on death row till they are executed. This ensures that the case is fully solved and that the inmate is truly guilty of the crime they are accused of. Not only would this solve jail overpopulation but taxpayers money. There would be less inmates that would need to be accounted for which means less money taxpayers have to pay towards keeping the county and state jails running. Now does sacrificing our unalienable right of life sound like a better idea?
The second reason backing the death penalty is to save money. If the death penalty was more widely used it would save taxpayers more than $4 billion dollars. To put this into perspective each death row inmate cost roughly $90,000 a year. Now there are more than 2,705 inmates to take into account for. This equates to more than $244 million dollars! Every year we pay this huge tax towards death row inmates alone. This could easily be fixed if death row inmates were given a maximum prison sentence of about ten years. This gives the court systems more than enough time to determine if the case is true. This also gives taxpayers more money to spend on bettering the community and helping it out. In conclusion enforcing the death penalty more so than it already is would not only reap benefits for the community but for jails as well. For jails, it would mean less overpopulation which in return would offer better safety for the inmates and guards both. The community could benefit off of the extra money by solving issues around the community and possibly contributing some of the money back to the people.
The death penalty also carries out retribution justly. “Deserved punishment protects society morally by restoring this just order, making the wrongdoer pay a price equivalent to the harm he has done.” (Budziszewski). When someone commits a crime it disturbs the order of society; these crimes take away lives, peace, and liberties from society. Giving the death penalty as a punishment simply restores order to society and adequately punishes the criminal for his wrongdoing. Retribution also serves justice for murder victims and their families. Some may see this as revenge, but this retribution is not motivated by malice, rather it is motivated by the need for justice and the principle of lex talionis (“an eye for an eye”) (Green). This lack of malice is proven in the simple definition of retribution: “retribution is a state sponsored, rational response to criminality that is justified given that the state is the victim when a crime occurs” (“Justifications for Capital Punishment). The death penalty puts the scales of justice back in balance after they were unfairly tipped towards the criminal.
Van den Haag brings forth the argument that capital punishment is the strongest deterrent society has against murder, which has been proven in many studies. “Since society has the highest interest in preventing murder, it should use the strongest punishment available to deter murder…” (Death Penalty Curricula for High School). In a study conducted by Isaac Ehrlich in 1973, it was found that for each execution of a criminal seven potential victim’s lives were saved (Death Penalty Curricula for High School). This was due to other possible murderers being deterred from committing murder after realizing thatother criminals are executed for their crimes. Ehrlich’s argument was also backed up by studies following his that had similar results. Capital punishment also acts as a deterrent for recidivism (the rate at which previously convicted criminals return to committing crimes after being released); if the criminal is executed he has no opportunity to commit crimes again. Some may argue that there is not enough concrete evidence to use deterrence as an argument for the death penalty. The reason some evidence may be inconclusive is that the death penalty often takes a while to be carried out; some prisoners sit on death row for years before being executed. This can influence the effectiveness of deterrence because punishments that are carried out swiftly are better examples to others. Although the death penalty is already effective at deterring possible criminals, it would be even more effective if the legal process were carried out more quickly instead of having inmates on death row for years.
The eighth amendment to the United States Constitution prevents cruel and unusual punishment. Many opponents of capital punishment say that execution is cruel and unusual punishment and therefore violates the Constitution. As was stated earlier, the recipient of the death penalty is treated humanely and is not tortured in any way, shape, or form. After the anesthetic is administered the person feels no pain; the only part of the process that could be considered painful is when the IV is inserted, but that is done in hospitals on a daily basis and no one is calling it unconstitutional. The Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld the death penalty as constitutional in cases they have presided over. In the case of Furman v. Georgia the court stated, “The punishment of death is not cruel, within the meaning of that word as used in the Constitution. It implies there is something more inhuman and barbarous, than the mere extinguishment of life” (Lowe). The Supreme Court has not found capital punishment to be unconstitutional, and therefore this argument for abolition is invalid.
It is true that there is disproportionality when it comes to the races and classes that most frequently receive the death penalty. It has been proven that minorities and those with lower income levels are overrepresented on death row. This is not due to discrimination; this is due to the higher rate at which these groups commit crime (ProCon.org). It has been argued that poverty breeds criminality; if this is true then it makes sense that those at a lower income level would more frequently be sentenced to execution than those at higher income levels (ProCon.org). It has also been proven that minorities are disproportionately poor, and therefore they would also be more likely to receive the death penalty. Ernest van den Haag said it best “Punishments are imposed on persons, not on…economic groups. Guilt is personal. The only relevant question is: does the person to be executed deserve the punishment? Whether or not others deserved the same punishment, whatever the economic or racial group, have avoided execution is irrelevant.” (ProCon.org) “It does not matter what race or economic status a person is, if he is guilty he must receive the appropriate punishment, which in some cases may be the death penalty.”
Capital punishment can be a difficult topic to approach because people tend to have extreme views on it. The death penalty is an asset to society; it deters potential criminals as well as serves retribution to criminals, and is in no way immoral. The arguments against the death penalty often do not hold up when examined more closely. It is important that the nation is united on this issue, rather than having some states use capital punishment while others do not. The death penalty can be an extremely useful tool in sentencing criminals that have committed some of the worst crimes known to society. It is imperative that we begin to pass legislation making capital punishment legal throughout the United States so that justice can be served properly.
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