United States Death Penalty- Deterrent or Myth

The death penalty has always been a controversial issue in the United States and has attracted a lot of debate from individuals and different institutions basing their arguments on ethical, sensible, religious and emotional justifications. It applies to specific crimes that have been previously determined to be punishable by death such as armed robbery, intentional murder, kidnappings where the victim dies in the process, rape and proven treason. The death Penalty has however stood the test of time in America since it has been in practice for a very long time. Those who are for the death penalty argue that it is just, acts as a deterrence for people who were to commit crimes similar to those being committed by the people who are facing the death sentence and that it works in favor of the community in that those who are convicted do not commit the crime again. Those who are against it are of the opinion that it is not effective as far as crime prevention is concerned, it is barbaric and it makes life inferior. The death penalty is still in force in the United States even today and has produced mixed results in the states in which it is practiced. There are some states in which the death sentence has been overruled and is therefore no longer in practice. This has been done in favor of other means of punishing perpetrators of crime that are considered to be more reasonable and effective.

Using the death sentence is not something that is directed towards specific people but is meant to apply to all members of the society as the message is passed to all of them. Deterrence is meant to make people afraid of committing the crime or acting in a hostile manner as they know the consequences that will follow them should they go against the rules. There have been questions about whether the death sentence penalty actually works or whether it is just in force for the sake of it. Several studies have been conducted to show whether or not the penalty works. This research paper is meant to showcase the facts about the death penalty and to determine whether its use as a deterrent works or the whole idea of it working is just a myth based on unjustifiable beliefs.

According to the Clark County Prosecuting Attorney, up to the year 2008, thirty seven states had authorized the death penalty allowing it to be carried out when deemed necessary while thirteen did not have the death sentence as part of their punishment to crimes. In previous years, New York and Nebraska had ruled out the death sentence. In Nebraska, the Supreme Court argued that the method used to execute the death sentence which was against its constitution while the New York Supreme court pointed out that the procedures used went against its constitution.

Facts and Figures about the Death Penalty
Many of the studies carried out about whether the death penalty actually deters crimes or not have either shown that it doesnt work or the evidence has been inconclusive. This is because in most cases it is not possible to formulate a statistical relationship between the number of executions that have been committed and whether they influenced the reduction of violent crime if that is the case. According to Stubbs, researchers conducted a study using available data on all states that allowed the death penalty to determine whether crime rates reduced due to the death penalty between 1950 and 1990 and did not find any correlation to this fact. (2007) Other statistical analyses that have been carried out concerning crime rates show that those states in which the death penalty is in effect actually have higher murder rates. In some cases, the states which do not have the death penalty have reported lower crime rates compared to the others. (Death Penalty Information Center, 2010) For example, the states that are found in the southern parts of America execute eighty percent of all documented death penalties but data collected in specified years show that the murder rates in these states are the highest among the four regions of the country. Studies carried in 1999 showed that death penalty states like Missouri, Illinois and Virginia reported higher murder rates compared to non death penalty states like Iowa, Wisconsin and West Virginia. This therefore leads to the conclusion that deterrence does not lead to lower crime rates.

Lacock and Radelet, some of the top criminologists in the United States conducted a study with the aim of finding out whether the use of the death penalty as a deterrent actually worked and their findings proved that it does not thereby undermining the whole idea and therefore concluded that using deterrence as a means of justification was actually misleading. Radelet, one of the criminologists, even suggested that the resources that are used to execute the death penalty should be used to assist victims of such crimes and also used in better ways to reduce crime because it was clear that the method was not working thereby making it a myth.

The death penalty has had effects on different platforms in the states, namely the economic, social and political platforms.

Economic Analysis
The economic analysis of the death penalty can be looked at from the perspective of the costs that the society has to pay in order for the executions to take place. It has been established that the process that is carried out up until the execution itself is an expensive affair. Wilkins, (2007) says that studies undertaken have determined that the cost that the United States government incurs with regards to the prosecution of death penalty cases compared to a life sentence cases is higher by above two million dollars both in the North Carolina state and Florida state for one case. In California, the cost spent per annum to sustain the death penalty system is a hundred and fourteen million dollars more than the amount spent on keeping the prisoners in the prison their whole life. This does not include the prosecution fee of the cases and if it was to be included then the figure would be much higher.
One death penalty case in Texas costs the government an average of 2.3 million dollars, a third of what it would cost to lock the person up for life. These amounts relate to those of the other states that execute death penalties though not necessarily equal. This money goes to pay for their lawyers, who are two in this case as compared to one who is allowed for a normal case, expert witnesses and investigators and the activities involved in the investigation process. All this money comes from the government revenues which in turn come from the taxpayers meaning that the people who actually pay for these cases are the people in the United States. It is also important to note that the costs continue to be incurred even after the court trials are over for example in filing for appeals and further expert fees between the time the death sentence is issued to the time that it is to be executed. In South Carolina, this time is said to be twelve years.

Despite people paying such a high cost in the name of justice, the intended results are not achieved. That is executing people does not deter other criminals from engaging in similar crimes. Such money should instead be used to pay for other things that will impact positively on the life of the people in the states such as medical institutions, learning institutions and the like. To save on these costs, there have been suggestions that the death penalty be replaced with a life sentence without parole.

Political Analysis
The death penalty has elicited as much political debate as it has in other areas. In some case it even breaks or makes ones political career depending on whether one is for it or against it. For example in South Carolina, the majority of political analysts are of the opinion that it is nearly unfeasible for a political candidate to make it to office as a public official if he or she is not in support of the death penalty because if one is against it he or she is said to be soft as far as crime is concerned. Wilkins,

The stand of the united states on the death sentence does not only have internal effects but also external once as it is one of the very few established democratic countries that allow it. For example in cases where extradition of criminals is necessary, America finds it difficult to obtain the support of other nations. In a case in 2001, the United States requested for an extradition of a suspect from Canada but the Canadian Supreme Court ruled against it saying that it would no longer allow for such especially in instances where the death penalty was a possible outcome of the trial.

This and other similar situations make it difficult for the United States to act on specific cases as it does not have support from countries which do not support the death sentence. For example, the countrys war on terrorism is at times frustrated by such countries. In one such incident, Spain refused to extradite al Qaeda suspects to the United States after the September 11 terrorist attacks because there was the possibility of the death penalty as an outcome of their trial. Wilkins, (2007)

Social Analysis
The social purpose that the death sentence is meant to serve is that of deterrence and retribution. Since the facts and figures have not been able to clearly link the death penalty to deterrence of crimes, it is up to an individual to decide whether or not it works depending on how he or she sees it. Retribution or revenge on the case of the individual is also not a clear issue as there is really no way to tell whether by executing the person who has committed the crime avenges the suffering or death experienced by the victim or close relatives and friends.

There is also the issue of innocence at play where an innocent person is wrongly convicted of a crime and executed only for it to come out later that the person was not guilty. In the year 2003, this question led the then governor of Illinois George Ryan to replace the death penalty with life imprisonment. His decision was based on the fact that a couple of journalism students established the innocence of a man hours before he was scheduled to be executed. Statistics released by the Death Penalty Information Centre showed that as from the year 2003, a hundred and twenty-three people who had been given the death penalty sentence were acquitted of their charges following new evidence. These and other cases have therefore led people to believe that there must have been more people who were executed yet they were innocent of the crimes they had been sentenced for. Wilkins, (2007)

The death penalty has also elicited opposition from Human rights activists and religious leaders citing that every human being has aright to life. This has led to a lot of campaigns against the death penalty. This is one area in which the United States shows weakness or failure to defend the human rights of its citizens because despite ending peoples life being a violation of human rights, the country continues to allow and execute death penalties. Death Penalty Information Center, 2010)

Failure of the death penalty to act as a deterrent to crimes can be related to various reasons that have been cited as a hindrance to its effectiveness. People who commit crimes warranting the death penalty are in most cases acting in an irrational manner meaning that they do not sit to think of the consequences their crimes would lead to. Even when crimes are committed by persons who intended to commit the crime, that is the crime is premeditated, the person does not give a thought to the consequences. In most cases, the people involved do not think that they will get caught and be prosecuted for their crimes. The possibility that even if they are caught they will not be sentenced to death is another reason why the death penalty has not worked as this form of punishment seems so distant to the perpetrators of premeditated crimes. Death Penalty Information Center, 2010)

Based on the available cases as presented in the studies that have been carried out and other available statistics on crime rates in both death penalty and non death penalty states, I conclude that the idea of the death penalty in the United States being a deterrent to crime is a myth. The cost that is incurred to execute this kind of sentence is definitely not worth it because the objectives of the whole idea are not being achieved and therefore the funds should be used in other areas that need such funds and have the promise of achieving solid results. There has been no direct correlation that has so far been established linking the death penalty to the reduced crime rates in areas that have reported a decline in crime and in fact, such facts relate to those states which do not allow the death sentence. The only area that the death penalty can be said to work is the fact that those who have been executed cannot commit other crimes, assuming that they were truly guilty in the first place seeing as there have been many reported cases of innocent people being executed.

The government should thus take the initiative of finding better and more effective ways of dealing with perpetrators of crimes warranting the death sentence such as life sentences without the choice of parole and stop trying to justify its existence as a deterrent in an area that is overwhelmed with evidence pointing out in the opposite direction. The death penalty can therefore not be justified under any means.


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