The purpose of this paper is to relate many different criminological theories in regard to capital punishment. We relate many criminological theories such as; cognitive theory, deviant place theory, latent trait theory, differential association theory, behavioral theory, attachment theory, lifestyle theory, and biosocial theory. This paper empirically analyzes the idea that capital punishment is inhumane and should be abolished. We analyze this by taking into consideration false convictions, deterrence of crime, attitudes towards capital punishment, mental illness and juvenile criminals, ones’ upbringing, and how the capital punishment system is utterly broken.
This paper cross analyzes these factors with the criminological theories and supporting data pulled from previous research. While we have seen a positive change in capital punishment since the 1990s, we still have a long way to go.
Capital punishment has been a debate topic for decades. There are many factors considered when criminals commit crimes that result in the death penalty. While some see capital punishment just, others argue it does not deter crime.
In the 1972 Furman v. Georgia trial the Supreme Court suspended the death penalty. In the 1976 Gregg v. Georgia trial the death penalty was reinstated (Facts About the Death Penalty, 2018). Since the reinstatement of the death penalty there have been a total of 1,486 executions in the United States (Facts About the Death Penalty, 2018). However more than 8,000 people have been sentenced to death since 1976. (Young & Powell, 2018). This paper will be comparing many criminological theories in relation to Capital punishment. In particular we will be observing capital punishment in relation to false convictions, deterrence of crime, attitudes towards this subject, juvenile and mental illness criminals, broken processes, and how ones’ upbringing plays a role in their decision to commit crimes.
Capital punishment is inhumane and should be abolished.
Many believe capital punishment deters crime. Ehrlich and Gibbons have conducted a study that show executions do not deter murder, but actually encourage it. They find that with an increase in executions this will in turn increase the number of murders (Ehrlich & Gibbons, 1977). Societies goal has remained unchanged; to suppress crime. The authors find that capital punishment encourages murder instead of deterring it. There were many logarithmic equations showing correlations between murder rates, arrests, convictions, executions, and relative costs and gains (Ehrlich & Gibbons, 1977). These found that “by measuring the effect of executions they can show that the latter would produce an increase in murders (Ehrlich & Gibbons, 1977)”. Our criminal justice system has trained law enforcement to do that, enforce the law. However, while enforcing the law we do not take into consideration that we too are breaking the United States Constitution. While in Amendment 14 it outlines that everyone has the right to equal protection under the law. In Amendment 8 it outlines that we are not subjected to cruel and unusual punishments. While many, as well as the United States Supreme Court find capital punishment does not offend the US Constitution. Research like Ehrlich and Gibbons purpose how our criminal justice system operates does not deter crime but inspires it. “According to a survey of the former and present presidents of the country’s top academic criminological societies, 88% of these experts rejected the notion that the death penalty acts as a deterrent to murder (Facts About the Death Penalty, 2018). Also, in the 2016 FBI Uniform Crime Report shows that the South has the highest murder rate, and accounts for over 80% of the countries executions (Facts About the Death Penalty, 2018). Thus, showing capital punishment does not deter crime. Behavioral theory is described as the way human actions develop through learning experiences (Siegel, 2018). Our criminal justice system is showing citizens it is okay to murder. By continuing to keep capital punishment alive, we are showing our society (based on our behavior) that it is okay to execute. I see this as a bias in our society.
Basak Uysal conducted a study of the Texas Huntsville Unit death row inmates and their last statements before being executed. The data was from a time span between 1982 and 2016, out of 537 death row inmates 429 of them used their right to their last statement (Uysal, 2018). 70 of the 537 death row inmates used this statement to deny the crimes they were being held responsible for (Uysal, 2018). Inmates being sentenced to death know they are preparing to exit their Earth presence. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2010 prisoners sit on death row for approximately 14.8 years (Uysal, 2018). This data shows it is safe to say these prisoners have had much time to think about their crimes and the perception of time. Uysal ensures to address that denial is not only perceived as innocence but can also be a defense mechanism (Uysal, 2018). While it is impossible to say every prisoner on death row is innocent or in turn guilty. Out of the 70 inmates that were executed it was determined that some of these people were actually innocent. In July of 2013 142 death row inmates were found innocent after serving years on death row. The innocence project uses DNA analysis to prove innocence of prisoners and have already secured 329 post-conviction sentences (Uysal, 2018). They are still actively working on 250-300 cases (Uysal, 2018). The Death Penalty Information Center found that more than 160 inmates were exonerated in the United States since 1973 (Facts About the Death Penalty, 2018). Cognitive theory is described as mental processes and how one perceives and mentally represents the world around them (Siegel, 2018). This relates to these prisoners who are being falsely convicted. They have years to mentally ponder how they mentally perceive the world. While these people are being falsely accused, spending years of their lives behind bars, they ponder why society has made them out to be criminals. They wonder how the criminal justice system can morally reason why they are still on death row, yet they are innocent.
Approximately 5-10% of death row inmates suffer from some form of mental illness (Wilson, 2016). Currently the United States will not sentence a criminal to death if they are found to be incompetent to stand trial or insane at the time of the offense. The United States then focuses on “competence to be executed (Wilson, 2016)”. While these criminals who suffer from mental illnesses are on capital punishment trial they must prove their state of mind during the offense. In the Hall v. Florida case Florida law banned anyone scoring lower than a 70 IQ test to be restricted from receiving the death penalty. Florida found this to be an accurate way to test intellectual disability. Stemming from the Atkins v. Virginia case, in 2006 the Human Rights Committee was pleased the United States “to ensure that person suffering from severe forms of mental illness not amounting to mental retardation are equally protected (Wilson, 2016)”. Wilson believes that “The U.S. Supreme Court needs to more fully and specifically define the range of severity of mental illness sufficient to bar the carrying out of the death penalty (Wilson, 2016)”. While yes, the death penalty has been banned for those found insane, it is still cruel and unusual to charge someone with capital punishment who are suffering from other mental illnesses (Wilson, 2016). Latent trait theory explains the flow of crime over the life cycle (Siegel, 2018). This theory suggests that one who possesses latent traits are more inclined to commit crimes. Some of these traits include defective intelligence, damaged or impulsive personality, genetic abnormalities, the physical-chemical functioning of the brain, and environmental influences on the brain functions like drugs, chemicals and injuries (Siegel, 2018). As Wilson stated in the article IQ tests are done to show defective intelligence thus showing mental illness (Wilson, 2016). However latent trait theory also includes traits such as genetic abnormalities and physical-chemical functioning of the brain (Siegel, 2018). These all have a correlation to capital punishment criminals suffering from mental illnesses.
American law defines and protects human rights in the US Constitution, US Supreme Court, and federal laws. Between years 1990 and 2005 there were 19 executions of juveniles (Kinscherff & Grisso, 2013). In the Roper v. Simmons case in March 2005 the Supreme Court banned execution of children under the age of 18. This took place due to adolescent development immaturity and capacities for change (Kinscherff & Grisso, 2013). Instead the United States can now sentence juveniles to life without parole. Kinscherff and Grisso state “Amnesty International (2012) reported that at least 2,500 persons in the United States are serving life without possibility of parole for crimes committed as juveniles (some as young as 13 at the time). (Kinscherff & Grisso, 2013).” The United States is currently the only nation that charges this sentence for juvenile criminals. In the 2012 Miller v. Alabama case it was not banned to convict juveniles of serving life without possibility of parole, however juveniles can have individualized sentencing. This is when the court takes into account the juveniles youth and developmental characteristics (Kinscherff & Grisso, 2013). This allows juveniles to possibly obtain release based on maturity and rehabilitation (Kinscherff & Grisso, 2013). This makes me think of an interesting perspective; these children who committed crimes while still not being fully mentally developed are now getting sentenced to life in prison. They are then subjected to a criminal environment, potentially leaving them stuck in the system. I see this as differential-association theory suggesting behavior is learned by observing reference groups; such as parents, teachers, family members, etc. (Siegel, 2018). Children are not born criminals, this is something that is learned. Differential-association theory shows that these juveniles sentenced to even life without parole were taught crime from a young age. They are not mature and still possess the capability to change their behaviors.
Minh et al. conducts a study linking childhood and adult criminality (Minh, Matheson, Daoud, Hamilton-Wright, Pederson, Borenstein, & O’Campo, 2013). While this article indirectly relates to capital punishment there are some supporting points that show ones’ upbringing plays a role in ones’ decision-making process to commit crime. As stated in the article, “Crime theories would suggest that family disorganization and poor parenting practices result in weakened social bonds for the child and consequently low self-control. Patterson specifically argued that antisocial behavior emerges from families marked by harsh discipline, negative parental interactions with their children and poor supervision (Minh et al., 2013).” These early influences in childhood effect ones’ life forever. When a child is born they are a blank slate, ready to be molded, without positive reinforcement, all they know is negative. In the Netflix Original TV Show, “I Am A Killer,” it interviews criminals who were sentenced to death row and are still awaiting execution (Young & Powell, 2018). The first question asked to all of the criminals asks about their child hood and upbringing. All of their childhood experiences stem from mental and physical abuse, drug addictions, alcoholism, criminal activity in the family, and experiencing poverty. While I do not see these as excuses to commit crimes, they do support the correlation that ones’ upbringing does play a role in crimes committed. Another interesting concept I noticed was many of them originally were sentenced to petty crimes; such as theft and vandalism (Young & Powell, 2018). They then learned from hard core criminals and ended up what I call “getting stuck in the system.” Some of these criminals have been incarcerated since their teenage years and were never given the chance to live a better life. Now they are on death row, awaiting execution, and were never given the chance for rehabilitation. Attachment theory is described as the inability to form attachments to others (Siegel, 2018). From the time of birth these criminals never developed the ability to form attachments to their parents; this took a lifelong effect on their ability make cognitive decisions. Lifestyle theory is described as not a random function but simply a function of the victims’ lifestyle (Siegel, 2018). Many of these criminals on death row grew up in broken households and were products of their environments.
A study conducted on attitudes toward capital punishment discussed how these vary by demographic factors such as; educational influences and neighborhood crime rates. The study included 599 college students and 213 residents from high and low crime neighborhoods (Maggard, Payne, & Chappell, 2010). The study researched what students and residents thought of capital punishment and found that race had the strongest impact on their attitudes. However, they found little differences between students and residents. Past research on attitudes towards capital punishment found demographically that “Whites, males, the wealthy, Republicans, crime victims, persons fearful of crime, and those living in the western region of the United States tended to support capital punishment more so than Blacks, females, poor people, Democrats, persons who had not been a victim of crime, persons who were less fearful of crime, and southerners (Maggard et al., 2010)” The study found that support of the death penalty is influenced by violent crimes in the area of the residents (Maggard et al., 2010). Race was found to be a relevant demographic on ones’ attitude towards capital punishment. Finding that nonwhites were less likely to support the death penalty and were more likely to believe the system can be racially bias (Maggard et al., 2010). The researchers believe whites support the death penalty more than minorities and believes this could also have a correlation with culture. That culture could play a role in ones’ attitude toward capital punishment. Deviant place theory describes ones’ greater exposure to dangerous places, those are more likely to commit crime and violence (Siegel, 2018). Deviant place theory is supported in this as criminals who are placed in a more criminally inclined neighborhood (areas of poverty) are more likely to commit crimes. Also, those who are placed in these areas would be less likely to support capital punishment.
Capital punishment is a broken process. When looking at this process not only does the justice system make judgements based on the heinous act of the crime, but also on poorly trained defense attorneys, race of the accused and the victim, and the county and state of where the crime was committed (Capital Punishment, 2018). Data as of 2015 showed that of the 1,392 executions performed in the years 1976-2015, 995 of them took place in the South (Capital Punishment, 2018). Not to mention the methods to carry out executions are of extreme pain and torture. Historically the South has been known for its racial prejudices. There have been high levels of racism, and in the topic of murder, there have been many racist murder acts that have taken place. It started with slavery and the history of lynching (Capital Punishment, 2018). From years 1976- 2017 the chart below shows that executions in the South far outnumber executions in any other regions in the United States (Facts About the Death Penalty, 2018). This arises an interesting thought; can capital punishment be a product of culture? The ACLU states “Prosecutors are far more likely to seek the death penalty and juries are far more likely to return death sentences when the victims are white than when they are black, and studies show that prosecutors routinely prevent blacks from serving on capital juries (Capital Punishment, 2018”). The statistics are astounding, “In Louisiana, the odds of a death sentence were 97% higher for those whose victim was white than for those whose victim was black (Facts About the Death Penalty, 2018).” The chart shows data pulled from interracial murders, the numbers speak for themselves. Biosocial theory is described as ones’ biology can explain criminal behaviors (Siegel, 2018). This is the only theory I see the justice system using to justify the astounding statistics. However, in my personal opinion, I would need to see data to see how it is supported. Many seem to think African Americans are biologically more inclined to aggressive behavior, however we are all humans, and there are many other demographic factors that need to be taken into consideration.
Capital punishment continues to be a heated topic. While it was banned in 1972 and reinstated in 1976. After the reinstatement of the death penalty the number of criminals sentenced to death row increased dramatically. With technological advancement in our criminal justice system we are now able to look more in depth into crimes. I see this as a positive and the numbers do show criminals being executed plummeted intensely since the 1990s. Nevertheless, capital punishment in general is inhumane and should be abolished all together. We looked at many supporting factors of this, critically examining false convictions, deterrence of crime, attitudes towards capital punishment, mental illness criminals, juvenile criminals, ones’ upbringing, and how our process is broken. We have analyzed data showing the correlation between all these factors and how they negatively hurt our society. We have related many criminological theories to these factors such as; cognitive theory, deviant place theory, latent trait theory, differential association theory, behavioral theory, attachment theory, lifestyle theory, and biosocial theory. When it comes down to it, as stated in the US Constitution we all have the right to live.