The pros and cons of the death penalty in the United States has been an issue of debate since its inception. The first death penalty style execution was performed in 1608 in the colony of Jamestown. And arguments for the death penalty and arguments against the death penalty have raged for literally centuries.
History of the Death Penalty
The history of the death penalty dates all the way back to ancient time. It was used as far back as the eighteenth century b.c. It has progressed since then throughout time and history. In the seventh century b.c. the only punishment for any crime was death. This seeming severe enough did not really do much for a drop in the crime rate. In b.c. Roman times death was carried out by crucifixion, beatings or drownings. In the tenth century ad the death penalty was mostly carried out by hangings. William the Conqueror outlawed the death penalty in any way or time except in times of war. This was short lived however.
In the sixteenth century more than 72,000 people were sentenced to death. However, the crime rate in England continued to grow over the next 200 years, begging the question of is the death penalty effective? This lead to the reform of Britain’s death penalty stance. In 1837 the death penalty in Britain was eliminated as a form of punishment for over 100 of the previous 222 crimes. The finality of the death penalty before this was the reason many juries would not convict of a crime, the death penalty eligible crimes were so minor at that time.
Death Penalty Statistics
- In the United States there are 32 states with the death penalty
- There have been 1,392 executions since 1976
- Currently over 3,000 inmates in the country on death row
- There have been 130 people released from death row upon proof of their innocence
- 65% of people support the death penalty
- Average cost of a death penalty case is 2.4 million dollars
- 16 states have a system in place where only the governor can declare clemency
- 56% of people on death row are white
- 35% are black
- 8% are Hispanic
- 1220 death sentences have been carried out by lethal injection
- 158 by electrocution
- The south is ranked highest in the country for death penalty executions at 1,142
- With Texas and Oklahoma ranking highest with a combined total of 642.
Does the Death Penalty Deter Crime?
So now the question is does the death penalty deter crime? Well, I guess statistics show that it actually does not deter crime. Rates of violent crime steadily grow, with the concentration of those crimes being in the inner cities where violence is much more prevalent. In this country now the only crime punishable by death is capital murder, or a hate crime murder which falls under the category of capital murder. Throughout history many have argued for the death penalty and against the death penalty, with the writing of Beccaria’s 1767 “Crimes and Punishment” abolitionists began to ask should the death penalty be allowed or should the death penalty be abolished?
The arguments stating that it should be allowed have been the adage of the biblically based “an eye for an eye” or the statement of if you take a life then you should have your life taken. These are very good arguments except for the fact of there are some cases where the taking of an innocent life was a complete accident or could not have been avoided. With all of the advancement in criminal investigations, there are still infallibilities in the system. Nothing is 100% certain in the criminal investigation area. There are new advancements being made every day. There have been several people released from death row, due to new evidence of their innocence. This is always a possibility, as I said nothing is 100% positive in this area and this poses a moral dilemma for lots of people. However, a big thing here is that the death penalty is good for someone who tortures or kills children, elderly people, or handicapped people, since these are the people that cannot effectively defend themselves from an attack by a would be murderer.
The arguments stating that it should be abolished are based on another biblical reference of thou shalt not kill, or two wrongs do not make a single right. In this case, this too is a moral dilemma. Again there is the issue of new scientific advancements, coming about every day. So the possibility for a wrong execution or a mistake in the evidence is a very huge possibility, and for most it is not worth the possibility of a person being wrongly executed making the state no better than the person they are executing.
The Cost of the Death Penalty versus the Cost of Life in Prison:
As I stated earlier the average cost of a death penalty case is 2.4 million dollars, and the average cost of a person being incarcerated for life varies by each state. Since each state has different costs of housing long term prisoners. The federal government however has asked that the death penalty be reevaluated in a lot of cases because of the current economic crisis.
In certain states there is an automatic review of all death penalty cases, just in case there is cause for an appeal. Then if the prisoner himself files an appeal this can take years and since most cases filed from the prisons are pro se motions then this sets up the taxpayers for more cost for attorneys to be hired to look at and possibly present those cases to an appeals court in each state and the United States Supreme Court if necessary. This process can literally take years, review of evidence, motions, etc, so they taxpayers are paying the cost to house these prisoners for however long it may take them to see their appeal through. So, either way the cost can be stupendous for taxpayers, and is a reason a lot of crimes are being reevaluated and even reclassified in some states.
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