The Death PenaltyThe Death Penalty
Why is the death penalty used as a means of punishment for crime? Is this just a way to solve the nations growing problem of overcrowded prisons, or is justice really being served? Why do some view the taking of a life morally correct? These questions are discussed and debated upon in every state and national legislature throughout the country. Advantages and disadvantages for the death penalty exist, and many members of the United States, and individual State governments, have differing opinions. Yet it seems that the stronger arguments, and evidence such as cost effectiveness, should lead the common citizen to the opposition of Capital Punishment.
Those who choose to support Capital Punishment are assuming that just because death is an absolute form of punishment, it will be a strong deterrent to crime. Yet, the US is the only Western nation that still allows the death penalty, and we also have one of the highest crime rates. During the 1980s, death penalty states averaged an annual rate of 7.5 criminal homicides per 100,000, while abolition states averaged a rate of 7.4 per 100,000 (Bryant). This data shows that a threat of Capital Punishment has no effect on crime in America. Furthermore, the Miami Herald reported that Florida, with one of the nation’s largest death rows, has estimated that the true cost of each execution is approximately $3.2 million, or approximately six times the cost of a life-imprisonment sentence. This shows that not only is the threat of being placed on death row ineffective, but the act is much more expensive than just leaving the accused in jail. Aren’t here other areas of need where this large sum of money could be used more effectively?
Supporters of Capital Punishment have various reasons for their opinions. Michael Bryant, a 30-year old columnist writer, posted some facts and opinions on the Internet representing the viewpoint of a Capital Punishment supporter. Keeping a prisoner in jail for life will be very expensive considering that it costs $80,000 a year; and the bad news is that the money comes from the taxpayer’s pocket. Thousands of people will attack the death penalty. They will give emotional speeches about the one innocent man who might be executed. However, all of these people are forgetting one crucial element. They are forgetting the thousands of victims who die every year. This may sound awkward, but the death penalty saves lives. It saves lives because it stops those who murder from ever murdering again (Bryant). These opinions represent some of the strongest and most influential views that proponents hold. However, if our prison system could rehabilitate more effectively, perhaps those who murdered once, could change.
Texas being one of the states within the U.S. that allows Capital Punishment also has one of the largest death rows. Jim Mattox, former Attorney General of Texas, who supported the death penalty during his term of office, does not believe that murderers in Texas are hindered by the death penalty. Mattox interviewed nearly all the people executed in Texas between 1976 and 1988 and concluded that the death sentence never crossed their minds before they committed their crime. “It is my own experience that those executed in Texas were not deterred by the existence of the death penalty,” he said (Death). It seems that even supporters of the death penalty are unsure of its effectiveness.
One of the most controversial applications of the death penalty has been developing for twenty-two years in Texas. Joseph Faulder, a Canadian citizen, was sentenced to death in 1977 for a murder committed in Dallas. Canada, his home country, does not practice Capital Punishment. Though he appealed seventeen times, and his execution would violate a two-hundred year old federal law known as the Alien Tort Claims Act, the Texas judiciary system sent Faulder to his death on June 17, 1999. Even a flood of official protests from Canadian state officials, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, the human rights arm of the Organization of American States, even the Vatican, also proved of no avail (Ward). Quoting Diane Clements, a protester in favor of the execution, “The message to them tonight is to stay home, don’t butt in where you don’t have business in Texas (Ward). In this highly controversial event, the dangers of the God-like powers given to the courts under Capital Punishment are evident. Not only could this event have caused an international crisis, but it was an unneeded display of power by the Texas judiciary system.
Even though the majority of the states in the U.S., thirty-eight, support Capital Punishment, there is still a strong opposition towards it. Opponents argue that if our prison system were effective, there would be no need for Capital Punishment. Congressmen Mark Price states his views on our prison system: “While I do not think that sending a person to ‘rehab’ will help them always, I do believe that people who once molested, raped, or murdered in cold blood can be healed and brought back to function in this society. The problem is that prison doesn’t rehabilitate, it can make the person even more offended and sickened at society and prone to harming themselves or innocent victims. It is not just as simple to supply answers that will work when applied to reality. I think that placing a person in a loving, nurturing environment will eventually bring out the best in them” (Pragmatic). As implied by Mark Price, our prison systems are doing an ineffective job of rehabilitation, and don’t supply the kind of environment that encourages change. This problem is seemingly endless though. The penal system of the United States, and Texas in particular is already extremely overcrowded, and a positive environment can’t be produced without individual attention. Yet, the reform of prisons is perhaps the key to changing current views upon Capital Punishment. Society needs to concentrate on helping those who need help, instead of simply discarding, or eliminating the problem.
Why is the death penalty used as a means of punishment for crime? As discussed above, there seems to be no prevalent reason for Capital Punishment to continue. It can cause unnecessary disputes, waste precious money and time, and it doesn’t deter crime. Maybe the key for reform is within the prison system itself, but change is not approaching quickly. It seems that for now, opponents will have to deal with Capital Punishment and hope for the best.
Bryant, Michael. “Thoughts on Capital Punishment.”
(June 12, 1999)
“Is the Death Penalty Necessary?”
(June 15, 1999)
“Pragmatic Arguments Against the Death Penalty.”
(June 12, 1999)
Ward, Mike. “Canadian executed after pleas exhausted.” 18 June 1999. Section B, page 1.