The use of capital punishment in the U.S. is a growing concern for most American citizens. According to statistics, seventy percent of Americans are in support of the death penalty, while only thirty percent are against it. These statistics show that few people are against capital punishment (“Fact” 1). With the use of the death penalty growing the controversy is becoming more heated. With only twelve states left not enforcing it the resistance is becoming futile (“Fact” 4). Many debates have been made and even clauses have been invoked, such as, the “Cruel and Unusual Clause” that was invoked by the Supreme Court in 1962 (Meltsner 179). The use of death as a punishment has been viewed as “cruel and unusual,” but in further research, the view of what is considered “cruel and unusual” has been reduced drastically (Berns 31).
America’s method of punishment has been reduced from several extremely painful execution methods to four quick and less painful punishments. They consist of a line of execution, a gas chamber, an electric chair, and the most popular lethal injection (“Ways” 1-4). The debate about the death penalty consists of both ethical and religious viewpoints. Some think that the death penalty should be legalized in all fifty states, to deter crime, keep repeat offenders off the streets, and alleviate prison costs from the taxpayers. On the other hand, there have been some men and women that have been wrongfully accused and executed for murder. Since the 1900’s at least 416 people have been wrongfully executed causing great concern for the accuracy of the death penalty (“Death” 4).
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According to an examination of the “Death Penalty and Legislature,” Henry Schwarzchild calculated that if the courts were to “carry out the death penalty for every murder, then we would be executing 400 persons per week (Bedau 366). At the same time, this small number of mistakes is nothing compared to the problems society would face without the death penalty. The concern of the death penalty not only pertains to social problems but also to biblical aspects as well. Walter Berns states many passages from the Bible that support the death penalty, but after careful research, he determines that the passages can be interpreted in many different ways. To read this passage from Genesis someone might think that the death penalty is supported “whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.” Although this passage seems to support capital punishment it may be supporting banishment, or in the modern sense life imprisonment from society, is also discussed (Berns 12).
The curiosity of whether capital punishment is Biblical depends on the interpretation of such scriptures. It is an area of religious concern that is not addressed directly. Despite this ongoing argument, outlawing capital punishment in America could create many unhappy citizens, and cause a division in the U.S. government. By enforcing the death penalty prevention in crime could occur. If death is the punishment for murder then criminals are not gaining from their crimes, but receiving the punishment they have inflicted on others. The crime rate is lower in the states that do not invoke capital punishment, but as Walter Burns stated “the number of murders tends to rise with the crime rate in general – and not only in America,” (105). Capital punishment is maintained to hopefully show criminals that when they kill they will eventually meet the same fate. By enforcing the death penalty the government could be trying to scare criminals from their crimes, and in some cases, it has worked.
When the death penalty was restored in Kansas, for example, the homicide rate dropped considerably (Bedau 122). According to research done by Bedau, the crime rate continued to sore between 1960-1969 when capital punishment was rarely being used in most states (Bedau 127). As a whole, capital punishment has worked to lower homicidal crimes and deter criminals from illegal actions. Capital punishment could help to keep repeat offenders off the streets. In some states, the common belief is that imprisoning the murders of society in penitentiaries will keep them from killing again, but this is not true. Even when criminals are imprisoned their killing can still continue. Bedau did a survey of all the male inmates in state penitentiaries during the year 1973. He came to the conclusion that after the men were imprisoned for one year at least sixteen homicides were reported (Bedau 162).
In effect, the convicted criminals were continuing their killing in prison instead of on the streets. By enforcing capital punishment law enforcement officials are trying to maintain that the homicidal criminals will never kill again and if imprisonment only creates opportunities for them to kill then capital punishment might be a more reasonable alternative. Capital punishment could help to alleviate the taxpayers from the costs of feeding and housing convicted felons. The death penalty has been thought of as a costly alternative to life in prison. Although, statistics show that after a death row inmate has been housed, clothed, and went through several appeals to the court they have spent anywhere from two to four million dollars. This is not including the cost of libraries and exercise facilities that are open to criminals. The average cost of housing a convicted felon is sixteen thousand dollars annually. So in the end taxpayers are paying a bill of four million-sixteen thousand dollars to keep the murderer alive in prison for one year (“Nine” 2).
On the other hand, the cost of executing the prisoner is only slightly higher an amount of 5.7 million dollars (Death 2). This difference in cost could be remedied by not allowing for so many appeals by the convicted felon. The sentence should be carried out more swiftly. Also, this small difference in cost is alleviated by the number of criminals deterred by the death penalty. Another unknown fact is how inmates are treated. Convicted felons have access to weight rooms and in some cases even gyms to work out and socialize with other inmates. The taxpayers are not only paying for the exercise equipment; they are also giving criminals the opportunity to socialize with other convicted felons. The food inmates eat and the beds they sleep on are what all Americans pay for. In addition to clothing and feeding the inmates the prisons are also forced to release thousands of prisoners every year back onto the streets due to a lack of room and funds.
By allowing so many felons to live on death row, instead of carrying out their punishments, the taxpayers are aiding in the care and well-being of hundreds of convicted murders (“Nine” 3). The debate over what is “cruel and unusual” is and always will be a controversial issue, but there are several factors to consider when making a decision on whether capital punishment is right or wrong. One is the prevention of crime by punishing convicted murderers with death. If felons are faced with death as a punishment for their crimes, they may be deterred from committing them. Keeping repeat offenders off the streets is another issue that could help society. By enforcing capital punishment the homicidal felons could be unable to carry out crimes again. The last issue to recognize is the cost of housing criminals. While convicted criminals are imprisoned they are able to eat and live off the money of taxpayers state-wide, rather than carrying out a sentence of capital punishment and alleviating the taxpayers from paying these fees. This is just yet another factor in the debate over capital punishment. In the end, capital punishment continues to be a heated issue of controversy and debate that could continue in years to come.
- Bedau, Hugo. The Death Penalty in America Third ed. New York: Oxford University P, 1982.
- Berns, Walter. “Crime and the Morality of the Death Penalty.” For Capital Punishment. New York: Basic Books P, 1974.
- Carelli, Richard. “Court refuses to outlaw Florida electric chair.” Washington 19 Jan. 1999. http.//web.lexus-nexus.com/universal (20 Jan. 1999).
- “Death Penalty Facts.” 7 June 1995. http://susers.aol.com/mcluf/deathf.htm (20 Jan. 1999).
- “Death Penalty Fact Sheet.” http://www.ohio.net/~mhs/civics/capp/-factsheet.htm (20 Jan. 1999).
- Kieter, Richard. “On the Front Line: Law enforcement views on the Death Penalty.” Feb. 1995. http://www.essential.org/dpic/dpic.r03.html (5 Feb. 1999).
- “Nine Lives: Myths and Facts about the Death Penalty.” http://www.ninelive.org/myths. htm (20 Jan. 1999).
- Meltsner, Michael. “The Supreme Court and Capital Punishment.” Cruel and Unusual. New York: Random House P, 1973.
- “Ways to be Executed by the Death Penalty. http://www.ohio.net/~mhs/civics/capps/ execution.htm (20 Jan. 1999).