Capital Punishment: Proper Punishment or a Form of Revenge

The death penalty has been around forever, in every recorded civilization there has always been some form of capital punishment. The methods of carrying out the death penalty have changed throughout history, from the more brutal types of our ancestors such as stoning and crucifixion, to the so-called humane ways, like lethal injection or the gas chamber being used today. There are more countries that have abolished the death penalty than ones where it is still legal, and the United States is the only country in the Western Civilized World to continue using it today.

The United States is one of the four countries that carry out the highest number of executions every year. The death penalty has not been proven to reduce the number of violent crimes, it is much more expensive to carry out an execution than to house an inmate for life and it is a final, irreversible sentence that has been proven in numerous occasions to have been carried out on innocent people.

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Studies on the deterrence factor of the death penalty have shown repeatedly that the death penalty has not had a diminishing factor on the number of violent crimes committed.

When comparing the number of murders in states with or without the death penalty, it has been shown that there is no significant difference between the two, if anything states with higher executions have shown a higher number of murders. “One study by Thorsten Sellin found that between 1989 and 2002, California (one execution), Texas (239 executions) and New York (no executions) all had almost identical patterns of murder rates from year to year-—though overall, Texas’ average was highest.

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("Five reasons to," 2010) Police chiefs around the country do not cosider the death penalty as the best tool in fighting crime, on the contrary, the chart below shows that when polled less than 1% of police chiefs considered the expanded use of death penalty a priority for them. (Dieter, 1995) [pic]

The death penalty’s main purpose was thought to be to deterred crime but as Janet Reno so eloquently put it "I think that the only purpose for the death penalty, as I see it, is vengeance--pure and simple vengeance. But I think vengeance is a very personal feeling and I don't think it is something hat civilized government should engage in . . . ." The death penalty has become more of a political tool to show that the politician is tough on crime than a crime fighting tool, both prosecutors and police officers would say that it does very little to prevent crimes; "I do not think the death penalty is a deterrent of any consequence in preventing murders," said Mr. O'Hair, who has been a prosecutor and judge for 30 years. Most homicides, he said, are "impulsive actions, crimes of passion," in which the killers do not consider the consequences of what they are doing. (Bonner, & Fessenden, 2000)

Not only is the death penalty not a deterrent to crime but it can cost the state 2-5 times more to carry out than the cost of housing an inmate for life. ((Messerli, 2009) In a study by the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, the report shows that “The additional cost of confining an inmate to death row, as compared to the maximum security prisons where those sentenced to life without possibility of parole ordinarily serve their sentences, is $90,000 per year per inmate.

With California’s current death row population of 670, that accounts for $63. 3 million annually. ” • Using conservative rough projections, the Commission estimates the annual costs of the present (death penalty) system to be $137 million per year. • The cost of the present system with reforms recommended by the Commission to ensure a fair process would be $232. 7 million per year. • The cost of a system in which the number of death-eligible crimes was significantly narrowed would be $130 million per year.

The cost of a system which imposes a maximum penalty of lifetime incarceration instead of the death penalty would be $11. 5 million per year. ” (Financial Facts About, 2010) California alone could save over $125 million per year if they abolished the death penalty and that money could be put to better use toward programs that have a greater and more reaching success rate, like seed money for community policing or hiring and training more police officers to have a greater presence in the more crime-ridden neighborhoods.

The chart below shows police officers opinions on the programs that they consider to be more effective in deterring crime in their areas. (Dieter, 1995) [pic] With the current economic crisis it makes even more sense to question if the billions of dollars being spent on death penalty cases are really benefiting the community. When you look at states like New York and New Jersey that have spent over $100 million dollars in the program with no executions it makes sense to abolish the death penalty once and for all and let the states use the money where it is needed the most. A recent poll by the Police Executive Research Forum found that 39% of responding police departments said their operating budgets were being cut because of the economy, and 43% said the faltering economy had affected their ability to deliver services” (Dieter, 2009) With an average savings of at least $10 million dollars per state and an average police officer salary starting at $40,000, each state could hire an additional 250 officers to help prevent crime from happening in the first place.

This would help the communities’ two-fold by both the additional work force and by protecting the public in a more efficient manner. When you consider that only 52 people were executed last year (Amnesty International, 2010) and that based on these numbers you could have over 12,500 more officers throughout the country fighting crime instead it is easy to see that the cost of maintaining the death penalty is actually creating more crime instead of deterring it. Of course there is the most disheartening factor of the death penalty debate that occurs when innocent people are sentenced and even executed erroneously.

It is commonly understood that the criminal justice system is not a perfect system and even thought all of those involved strive to deliver sentences that are just and fair, mistakes happen every day that either send innocent people to jail or that set guilty ones free. The problem with the death penalty is that once it is carried out it is irreversible and even with what sometimes seem like endless appeals, for inmates of low resources it can sometimes be impossible to obtain the type of defense that would prove their innocence. The danger that innocent people will be executed because of errors in the criminal justice system is getting worse. A total of 69 people have been released from death row since 1973 after evidence of their innocence emerged.

Twenty-one condemned inmates have been released since 1993, including seven from the state of Illinois alone. Many of these cases were discovered not because of the normal appeals process, but rather as a result of new scientific techniques, investigations by journalists, and the dedicated work of expert attorneys, not available to he typical death row inmate. ” (Dieter, 1997) And it is not only those who are wrongly executed that suffer but the ones that are sentenced to death and have to spend years living with the knowledge that they might not succeed on their quest to prove their innocence and could end up being executed for a crime they did not commit. Of course there is the consideration of the victim’s families who want justice for their love ones but like Lorrain Taylor, mother of twin boys who were murdered explains “Taking another person’s life does not stop violence,” says Taylor.

There’s a contradiction in responding to murder by executing people. ” ("Families of murder,") For a lot of the families, a death penalty sentence only serves to lengthen their pain and prevents them from being able to start the healing process by concentrating on revenge instead of healing. The majority of the country’s police chiefs as well as renown criminologists all agree that the death penalty not only ranks as the least effective way to deter murder but it is one of the most costly and inefficient ways to fight crime. Since 1973, 123 people in 25 states have been released from death row with evidence of their innocence” ("Five reasons to," 2010) proving that the system is far from perfect and that as a society we cannot allow innocent man and women to be executed for crimes they did not commit. The death penalty’s main purpose is to satisfy society’s view of an “eye for an eye”, it is a legalized way of exacting revenge on the wrongs committed against society and has never been shown to be in the best interest of the this country.


Updated: Feb 23, 2021
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Capital Punishment: Proper Punishment or a Form of Revenge. (2017, Mar 13). Retrieved from

Capital Punishment: Proper Punishment or a Form of Revenge essay
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