Imagine a man who commits murder, and is given a fifteen year jail sentence and is returned to the streets where he kills again. He is imprisoned again only to be released.
This could happen since almost one in ten death row inmates has been convicted of murder at least once. That means that some death row inmates have had more than one opportunity to rehabilitate, yet continue to commit crimes. Should the U.S. justice system continue to let violent criminals back on the streets where they are likely to commit murder again? Capital punishment is one of the oldest forms of punishment.
Most societies have thought it to be fair punishment for severe crimes. American colonists used capital punishment before the U.S. was a country, and most states still use it today. Currently, however, there has been a controversy surrounding the death penalty.
Capital cases are long and expensive, and there are arguments in support and against capital punishment as a deterrent. If the laws concerning capital punishment were modified so that it would become consistent, perhaps then it would be effective. But if that took place, would capital punishment be morally permissible? From a utilitarian standpoint, some crimes are so outrageous, such as murder, that it is by enacting the highest penalty for the taking of human life that society affirms the highest value of human life. Thus, if capital punishment is the most beneficial option to society, then the ends justify the means. One argument states that the death penalty doesn’t deter crime. Dismissing capital punishment on that basis requires one to eliminate all prisons as well because they don’t seem to be any more effective in the deterrence of crime.
During the suspension of capital punishment from 1972-1976 research shows that in 1960, there were 56 executions in the U.S. and 9,140 murders. By 1964, when there were 15 executions, murders had risen to 9,250. In 1969, there were no executions and 14,590 murders, and 1975, after six more years without executions 20,510 murders occurred (Siegel, 50). The number of murders grew as the number of executions shrank.
More recently, there have been 56 executions in the US in 1995, and there has been a 12% drop in the murder rate nationwide (Siegel, 51). People have referred to democratic S. Africa as one of the most violent places on earth. The New York Times magazine carried a story on the epidemic of rapes of children in that country: 120.6 rapes for every 100,000 women as compared with 71 in the U.S.
One reason for the increase in attacks on young children is that rapists think they are less likely to have AIDS since they know that AIDS has skyrocketed among the adults of S. Africa. Those rapist are less likely to attack grown women because they fear the lethal consequences of AIDS. This demonstrates that violent criminals are indeed capable of being deterred by lethal consequences. If the death penalty was just as consistent, lethal, and unstoppable as the AIDS virus, criminals would actually have reason to back down.
Abolitionists will claim that most studies show that the death penalty had no effect on the murder rate at all. They neglect to inform themselves that those studies are based on inconsistent executions. Capital punishment must be used consistently in order to be effective. Abolitionists claim that there are alternatives to the death penalty. They state that life in prison without parole serves just as well. However, in order to make that statement, one must ignore all the murders criminals commit within prison when they kill prison guards and other inmates, and also when they kill citizens upon escape.
For example, Dawned Mu’Min who was serving a 48-year sentence for the 1973 murder of a cab driver when he escaped a road work gang and stabbed to death a storekeeper in a 1988 robbery. Fortunately, there is now no chance of Mu’Min committing murder again. He was executed in Virginia in 1997. Mu’Min’s example shows that putting a murderer away for life just isn’t good enough. Laws change, so do parole boards, and people forget the past.
Those are things that cause life imprisonment to weather away. As long as the murderer lives, there is always a chance that he/she will strike again. This is the reason for people who value public safety that there is no substitute for the best in its defense which is capital punishment. It forever bars a murderer from killing again.
Abolitionist ask, Why do we kill people to show that killing people is wrong? They state, Two wrongs don’t make a right, therefore, executions are equivalent to murder. The term murder is specifically defined in the dictionary as the UNLAWFUL killing of a person with malice and afterthought. So the word murder cannot be used to describe executions since the death penalty is the law. Comparing executions to murders is like comparing incarcerating people to kidnapping or charging taxes to extortion. There is a difference between violent crime and punishment.
Is there a contradiction in a policeman speeding after a speeder to enforce speeding laws? One displays a serious lack of moral judgment to believe that just because two practices share a physical similarity means that they are morally identical. What separates crime from punishment, good form evil are not their physical aspects but rather their moral aspects. Moral aspects examine the reasons and motivations behind one’s actions. Abolitionists tend to focus on the death penalty’s physical aspects to demonstrate that it is the same as murder while completely ignoring the moral aspects involved, therefore, demonstrating their total lack of moral coherence. In conclusion, every country in the world is ready to kill millions in order to defend their nation from the aggression of others. It is difficult to see why public safety doesn’t deserve the same respect as national security.
Perhaps, supporting armies and war is far more barbarous than the death penalty. One reason nations exist is to defend citizens from criminals. When they fail to do that, they fail their citizens. When a society ignores its moral duty to defend the safety of its citizens they are leaving them at the mercy of criminals. If capital punishment can guarantee the safety of the citizens the best, and it thus benefits society, then from a utilitarian standpoint it is morally permissible. John Mill states: Does fining a criminal show want of respect for poverty, or imprisoning him, for personal freedom? Just as unreasonable it is to think that to take the life of a man who has taken that of another is to show want of regard for human life.
We show on the contrary our regard for it, by the adoption of a rule that he who violates that right in another forfeits it for himself and that while no other crime he can commit deprives him of his right to live, this shall (Siegel, 66). The recidivism rate for capital punishment is zero. No executed murderer has ever killed again. One can’t say that about those sentenced to prison, even if you are an abolitionist.