In discussing the death penalty in this country perhaps the most important issue to discuss is not whether it is fair but rather if it is effective and constitutional. Obviously, different people and organizations have very strong feelings about this issue, but not all of these feelings or arguments can be supported by facts.
One unsupportable fact that is often raised by pro-death penalty organizations is that executions deter crime. In point of fact, almost every study conducted on this issue has determined that not only does an execution not reduce the crime rate long-term, but that the violent crime rate actually increases for several days following a prisoner being put to death (Thaxton, 2013). The point could be raised, however, that the executed prisoner is certainly deterred from committing any additional crimes.

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Another much-contested issue is whether the death penalty is constitutional or if it violates the prisoner’s right to not be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment. This is the issue which is usually debated when states abolish the death penalty, then reinstate it, then abolish it again year after year after year (Yorke, 2010). The problem with this issue is that what seems to be cruel and unusual to one person might not seem so to another. This is the reason that many states are in an almost constant state of flux where the death penalty is concerned (Thaxton, 2013).

Another argument against the death penalty made by its detractors is that it is very expensive to seek the death penalty and then to actually execute a prisoner. While this is true, when compared to the cost of housing, feeding, and providing the necessities of life to an inmate for the rest of his life is almost always far more expensive (Thaxton, 2013). This is really a minor consideration, however, when statistics of how many prisoners are actually executed is considered. It is far more likely that a prisoner sentenced to death will live for years on death row exhausting his almost endless source of appeals and waiting for the state to change its mind again and abolish the death penalty again. Of 100 convicts sentenced to the death penalty, it is likely that only a very small percentage will actually be put to death.

Obviously, it is unlikely that this decision will ever be decided completely one way or another. As long as there are people for it and people against it the argument will continue and states will continue to keep changing their minds.

  • Thaxton, S. (Spr 2013). Leveraging death. Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology, 103(2): 475- 552.
  • Yorke, J. (Mar 2010). Inhuman punishment and abolition of the death penalty in the Council of Europe. European Public Law, 16(1): 77-103.