this essay discusses problems associated with capital punishment, common misbeleifs about death penalty and other interesting facts like life on a death row and rules for conviction of minors
Susan Smith intentionally drove her car into a lake with her two children strapped to the back seat, but the jury decided that capital punishment is too cruel for murdering her infant daughters. The word "capital" in "capital punishment" refers to a person's head. In the past, people were often executed by severing their head from their body. Today, in the U.S., most prisoners are murdered by lethal injection. Capital Punishment has been a major issue in today's society; seventy-five percent of Americans believe that capital punishment is constitutional and moral, and while it is a proven fact that it does not deter crime, many people are sure that 'eye for and eye' belief should be an unquestionable law.
A lot of people do not know that it costs more to execute a person than to keep him/her in prison for life, despite that 749 prisoners have been executed since 1977 and 3700 are still awaiting execution.
One of the major issues over death sentence is if it is even constitutional to execute a person. The Constitution does not directly state whether the capital punishment is legal but it mentioned in two amendments. The Fifth Amendment states " ... nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor to be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law..." (The Constitution of the United States, 5th amendment). Abolitionists (people that are in favor of abolishing the capital punishment) find their argument in another amendment: "... nor cruel and unusual punishment inflicted" (The Constitution of the United States, 8th amendment). Abolitionists also find support in the Christianity: during the Sermon of the Mount, Jesus urged to replace the old law of 'an eye for and eye and tooth for a tooth' with an attitude of charity, even towards those who would commit evil against people (Mw 5:38-48); similar statements are mentioned in the Old Testament (Rom 12:19-21). For example, "He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first." Yeshua of Nazareth (Jesus Christ) condemning on public execution of a woman for adultery. John 8:7, (NKJ). One must note that although that Christianity is against murdering, the bible requires the death penalty for a wide variety of crimes, including sex before marriage, adultery, homosexual behavior, doing work on Saturday and murder. Fortunately, Most Christians, with the exception of those in the Reconstructionist movement, feel that many of these grounds for the death penalty no longer apply to Christian societies.
One hundred and eleven countries ether have abolished or are in a process of abolishment of the death penalty; United States is one of the eighty-six countries that retain practice of the execution as a punishment and their number is rapidly decreasing. Hundreds of studies have been conducted regarding that issue but very few have been able to prove anything in specific. But while most people think that a key advantage of the death penalty over life imprisonment is a money issue (it saves taxpayers a lot of money not to keep those prisoners locked up) the actual cost if execution is much higher than keeping them in prison for life. A 1993 California study showed that that each death penalty case costs at least 1.25$ million more than a regular murder case and a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. But another problem arises, despite that is
cheaper to keep some one in prison for life, there is always a chance of that person regaining freedom by one way or another; that chance can be as small as .0001% but that criminal can always repeat his crimes while being unbound. Moreover, most of those criminals have nothing to loose anyway, meaning that they will use any opportunity to escape, even if it means claiming other lives. Many people see capital punishment as a racist edict, since 80% of inmates on federal death row are African-Americans, Hispanic or from other minority group, although most of people that are executed are white (56 out 74 for 2001). But it is a fact that the death penalty in the U.S. is essentially a product of Southern culture, mostly because 61 of the 71 executions were in Southern states and Outside the South, only three States (California, Ohio and Missouri) executed anyone in 2002.
Convicting people under 18 is a violation of international law but seven countries are known to have executed prisoners who were under 18 years old: Congo, Iran, Nigeria,
Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and USA. Seventeen child offenders have been executed in United States since 1990, the most out of those seven countries. Since 1976 100+ death row inmates have been found innocent. Only 40 of them were released while the others were executed before they were proven innocent. Since 749 people were executed that means there is a 10% chance that an innocent person might be put to death. Every inmate has a right for an appeal but most do not even get an adequate legal representation due to the lack of finances. Sister Helen Prejean, a famous abolitionist that worked in Angola Prison once said, "The death penalty is a poor person's issue. Always remember
that: after all the rhetoric that goes on in the legislative assemblies, in the end, when the deck is cast our, it is the poor who are selected to die in this country." (Schonebaum 83)
Life on death row is different than one can expect; it is harsh and most inmates actually struggle to survive until their execution due to the lack of food, medical and psychological care. In most states, the death row program is designed for violent, non-conforming criminals, although most inmates do not fit that profile. Death row prisoners are confined 23-24 hours a day. The only out of cell time is a shower (3 times a week) and 1hour recreation time (3-5 times a week) in an enclosed concrete yard if the weather is permitting. The cells are roughly the same size as an average North American bathroom; the bunks are concrete slabs with a 1-2 inch cotton mattress on top. Concrete unpainted walls, no other furniture and a solid steel door with a small Plexiglas window finish the picture. Death row inmates do not have educational or vocational programs (since they are condemned to die there is no point in educating them) but they also do not have to work like other inmates. Mental, dental and psychiatric care is also less than adequate due to low funding.
Food is another horrifying issue for death row inmates. Portions are often too small and/or undercooked. On occasion, rancid meat is served. One inmate
commented: "When I see the mystery meat covered in gravy, I know it's a rotten meat and the gravy is used to cover up the smell and the taste. I don't eat it because it makes me sick." In Terrel Unit, TX, during the lockdown, peanut butter and jelly pancakes are served three times a day, nothing else. Most of those symptoms come from low state funding and budget problems.
A strong case can be made in principle for and against capital punishment. The biggest question about capital punishment is "Does society have the right to take life at all?" And until that issue is resolved humanity cannot expect precise answers to the capital punishment debate. But the belief that Human life has intrinsic value, even if a person has murdered another individual should prevail in modern society. The death penalty denies the sacredness of human life. Live is so precious that nobody should ever be killed, even by the state.
Banner, Stuart. The Death Penalty: An American History. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988.
Greenhouse, Linda. "The Supreme Court: Capital Punishment; Justices Say Death Penalty is Up to Juries, Not Judges." New York Times . 25 June 2002: T1+.
Professor MgGuire, James. Telephone Interview. Jan 2002.
Novak, Viveca. "Putting the Death Penalty to Work." Time 22 April 2002: 67-68.
Schonebaum, Steve. Does Capital Punishment Deter Crime? New York: Greenhaven Press, 1998.
"Capital Punishment Statistics." U.S. Department of Justice 15 December 2002. http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/cp.htm.
"Capital Punishment." Britannica. 18th edition. 1989.