The Death Penalty: Society's Injustice System

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A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College


The Death Penalty: Society's Injustice System

Alisha Ott

In the year 2002 alone, seventy-one inmates were put to death. In 2003, thirteen prisoners were executed and another twenty-six were scheduled to die. In the United States, methods of execution range from mild torture such as lethal injection and electrocution, to more barbaric torment such as hanging or being shot to death by a firing squad. According to Amnesty International, seventy-six countries have eradicated the death penalty completely, and many countries that retain the death penalty have not utilized it for years ("Facts" 1). Capital punishment should be abolished because of the following: it is not an effective crime deterrent, it may result in the loss of innocent lives, it is morally wrong, and there are other, more humane, alternatives.

The death penalty does not contribute to the deterrence of crime. In fact, the death penalty may actually raise crime rates. Studies posted by the Death Penalty Information Center confirm that in 2001, the murder rates in states which did not employ capital punishment were thirty-seven percent lower than the murder rates in those states which did utilize capital punishment ("New" 1). Researchers also found that Southern states, which are responsible for eighty percent of the executions in the United States, have the highest murder rates in the country ("New" 2). Investigation into the causes of higher murder rates in death penalty states reveals a connection between executions and increases in homicide. A study conducted on capital punishment in Oklahoma found that "there was a significant increase in stranger killings and non-felony stranger killings after Oklahoma resumed executions after a 25-year moratorium" ("New" 1). Capital punishment is not a solution; it is a burden on society and does more harm than good. Many other countries have eradicated the death penalty for this reason. The countries that have abolished capital punishment have substantially lower crime rates. The murder rate in the United States is three times higher than in countries such as France, Italy, and Sweden, all of which do not use the death penalty as a form of punishment. Capital punishment does not discourage crime and, as studies have shown, may increase crime in our country.

Capital punishment does not prevent violent behavior in mentally ill or retarded criminals. Criminals who are mentally incapacitated before they are sent to prison do not have the state of mind or intellect to determine right from wrong. Many of these criminals commit violent crimes because these individuals aren't able to function properly in society and do not understand the consequences of their actions. These people do not understand the death penalty or comprehend what it entails. As a result, the death penalty is unsuccessful in averting violent crime in these individuals. Likewise, it is wrong to execute criminals who have become mentally challenged or insane after they are sent to prison. In his essay, "The Death Penalty," abolitionist David Bruck writes about a man named Alvin Ford who is on death row in a Florida penitentiary. Bruck paints a picture of a man who has "lost his mind during his years of death-row confinement and now spends his days trembling, rocking back and forth, and muttering unintelligible prayers" (564). In the case of Alvin Ford and many other insane convicts, living each day as a prisoner in one's own mental hell is punishment enough. In these cases, capital punishment does not serve any purpose because these criminals are too incoherent to learn any lesson from death. Most of them do not even understand they are going to die or what they are dying for. The death penalty is not a viable solution for offenders with mental problems because they are incapable of normal thought processes and many cannot even grasp the concept of death.

The death penalty puts innocent lives at stake. It is widely recognized that our justice system is not perfect. There are times when people are wrongly accused of crimes or they are not granted fair trials. There is still corruption in our justice system, and bias and discrimination occur. For example, in Chicago, twelve African-American men were repeatedly beaten and tortured by former Lieutenant John Burge during interrogation. Eleven of these men are currently on death row, while one man died of medical neglect at the hands of prison caretakers ("Justice" 1-2). These men were not treated fairly, and their right to a fair trial was stripped from them when they were beaten into submission and forced to sign confessions. Were they treated this way because they were African-American? When innocent people die, the death penalty has failed. Another example of this failure is the case of Roosevelt Green, who was executed in Georgia for the kidnapping and murder of a young woman. According to author David Bruck, "Green swore that his companion shot her . . . after Green had left and that he knew nothing about the murder. Green's claim was supported by a statement his accomplice made to a witness" (565). Roosevelt Green was executed despite witness testimony that he had nothing to do with the murder of the woman that was kidnapped. Unfortunately, our justice system is not always accurate and faulty cases slip through the cracks. Families of innocent people should not be made to suffer for the inadequacy of the death penalty. Capital punishment poses a large risk to innocent people and their families.

The government has no right to put conditions on human life. Life and death will occur at a natural pace, and it is wrong for the government to interfere. Helen Prejean, author of "Executions are too costly--Morally," encapsulates this idea in her essay when she says "Allowing our government to kill citizens compromises the deepest moral values upon which this country was conceived: the inviolable dignity of human persons" (584). When the government or individuals make the decision to take another human life and act upon it, they commit murder. When society advocates capital punishment and allows the government to assassinate inmates, we are no better than the murderers and common criminals who fill our prisons. Capital punishment is premeditated murder.

The death penalty sends a confusing and contradictory message. Capital punishment strives to prevent criminals from murder and violent crimes by terminating the lives of those convicted. This is highly contradictory. The death penalty sends the message "Don't kill or we will kill you." Punishing an action with the same action is incongruous and inconsistent. The death penalty is like spanking a child for hitting another child at school. It only serves to confuse and reinforce the behavior rather than correct it. It just doesn't make sense. Capital punishment only reinforces violent behavior and serves no purpose but to avenge victims and their families. Society is endorsing revenge by embracing the death penalty. Capital punishment is not a correctional tool; it is state-sanctioned revenge.

Capital punishment is not necessary because there are other alternatives. First of all, tougher sentencing would help deter offenders from committing crimes. According to the Bureau of Justice, of the "inmates under the sentence of death" two-thirds had "prior felony convictions," and one-in-twelve had "prior homicide convictions" ("Capital" 2). Longer jail time for felons and first-time offenders would keep them from entering society until they were able to rehabilitate. In addition, life sentences would prevent violent offenders from committing additional crimes upon society. Also, keeping convicts in prison is cheaper than executing them, so it is a better alternative. A study from the Death Penalty Information Center revealed that North Carolina alone pays "2.16 million per execution over the costs of a non-death penalty murder case with a sentence of imprisonment for life" ("Costs" 1). Requiring inmates to pay for their time in prison would further reduce the cost to taxpayers. Allocating a portion of a prisoner's earnings toward facility expenses and programs would force them to literally "pay" for their crimes. A portion of inmates' wages should also be put into funds for crime victims and their families. Although money can never replace a loved one or completely heal the damage, it could help families reconstruct their lives. There are more constructive alternatives to the death penalty.

Human life is precious, yet society does not hesitate to cast it aside into a system that is mediocre at best, without remorse. Capital punishment does not deter crime, cannot ensure the safety of the innocent, and is morally deficient. There are other alternatives. Murderers and violent offenders deserve to be punished for their crimes, and victims and their families deserve justice. However, the death penalty is not the answer. As a nation, we are responsible for maintaining justice. Throwing lives away in a practice that is flawed because our government and politicians are too indolent to seek other alternatives is not just. Justice for victims, their families, and the innocent will not be obtained until capital punishment is eliminated.

Works Cited

Bruck, David. "The Death Penalty" The New Republic. 20 May 1985. Rpt. in Current Issues and Enduring Questions. Ed. Sylvan Barnet and Hugo Bedau. Boston: Bedford St. Martin's, 2002. 563-66.

"Capital Punishment Statistics." Bureau of Justice Statistics. 08 January 2003. 16 February 2003.

"Costs of the Death Penalty." Death Penalty Information Center. 20 February 2003.

"Facts and Figures on the Death Penalty." Amnesty 04 February 2003.

"Justice For The Death Row 10!." Campaign to end the Death Penalty. 25 February 2003. .

"New Deterrence Studies." Death Penalty Information Center. 20 February 2003. .

Prejean, Helen. "Executions Are Too Costly--Morally" Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States. 1993. Rpt. In Current Issues and Enduring Questions. Ed. Sylvan Barnet and Hugo Bedau. Boston: Bedford St. Martin's, 2002. 580-84.