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Capital punishment, otherwise referred to as death sentence, has been a heated debate topic throughout the world. The existence of supporters and abolitionists results in a further need to understand the impact it has on society today, and more precisely, on the justice system. Capital punishment has existed since human integration in society with most of the early civilizations adopting it for not only great crimes but also petty theft and burglary. Despite the prevalence of democracy today, there are still crimes perceived by man as too serious, and that the only punishment suiting them is a death sentence. For this reason, there still exists many countries that support death sentence as a form for greatest of crimes such as treason, murder, rape as well as religion (mostly Islam), and corruption. The United States, the global leader of democracy, has not abolished capital punishment, as it is still prevalent in some of the member states (Hans et al., 2015). It has sparked heated debates not only nationally, but also around the globe with the existence of many abolitionist countries, who have a higher regard for human life. However, the US, China, Botswana, among other nations are supporters of the form of punishment, acknowledging its effectiveness in the deterrence of crime as well as eliminating criminals that can only do more harm than good alive. Nations in support are moving towards publicizing executions with the aim of ensuring there is absolute deterrence through enacting fear amongst the public. Public executions promise to do more harm than good precisely in the advancing democratic world, thus ruining the perceptions of the public of their governments and leaders and promising anarchy and chaos, rather than peace and prosperity.
History of Death Penalty
Almost all societies have adopted the use of capital punishment, prior the 19th century, where there existed ineffective prison systems, and a death sentence was the only server of ultimate justice, in regards to protecting the society from a repetition by the criminal. Cruel and torturous methods were used, and executions were often in public with the aim of deterring crimes and depicting the result of involving oneself in criminal activities (Hans et al., 2015). Executions have been used by leaders from time immemorial with the aim of scaring wrongdoers, and as a means of changing their behavior to be in more accordance with the law. Religious martyrs have been major victims of capital punishment historically with Jesus also receiving an execution. In cases such as murder, it is argued that since the criminal led to an end of life, his or hers also should end by the virtue of law. Espionage, treason, war crimes, rape, terrorism, incest, adultery, and sodomy also make up for capital crimes, whose punishment is a death sentence. In the military, capital punishment is also executed on deserters, for insubordination, cowardice, and mutiny. It is done to uphold the strength and effectiveness of the military, ensuring that all members understand that their actions can consequently result in death. In World War II, the Soviets executed 158,000 soldiers, who were charged with the crime of deserting. Another major execution is Mao Zedong’s 800,000 executions after the communist party’s victory, which inspired change in regards to justice with the abolition of capital punishment (Bindler & Hjalmarsson, 2017). Civil rights organization have risen all around the globe seeking abolition of the death sentence with the cry for respect of life, despite the crime committed by an individual.
Impact of Death Penalty Today
The death penalty is argued to have a profound impact on deterrence, precisely among crime doers and people considering committing crimes. The issue has resulted in a heated debate around the globe with countries disagreeing on their position in regards to the matter. Abolitionists claim that capital punishment is unjust and cruel, and that, inflicting death on a murderer serves no justice. It instead makes the judicial system a criminal itself. However, a country such as China and the US argue for the credibility and effectiveness of the death penalty in deterring, retribution, and creating closure for victim’s families. The current president, Donald Jr. Trump argues that even if it fails to work as a deterrent for other criminals, the sentenced will be in no position to commit further crimes (Hans et al., 2015). However, this is a simple way to look at it basing on the fact that the state has executed the same form of treatment to a crime committed to their victim (in a murder case). Anti-capital punishment states such as Italy and New Zealand believe that it is wrong to take any one’s life, as no one has the absolute power over another human’s life. The Christian religion is also in support of this view, whereby it is stipulated in one of the commandments that ‘Thou shall not kill’, including governments who should seek corrective measures on the individual, and where correction cannot work, life imprisonment should act as a suitable punishment for the committed crimes (Bindler & Hjalmarsson, 2017). Death penalty execution has spawned heated debate internationally with a more focus on global abolition, and respect for life. However, there is a contradiction with some nations seeking publicizing executions to act as a tool for deterring criminals as well as exerting the power of the law and justice.
Pros of Death Penalty
According to supporters of the death penalty, the death penalty is a critical deterrent to further crimes by individuals not yet arrested. It is argued that allowing murders and treasonous individuals to live will create anarchy in a nation, as people will have minimal or no fear for the judicial system. The death penalty scares any individual who intends to commit crimes and has no fear for prisons or any form of confinement and punishment. In such a case, supporters argue that the only effective tool is capital punishment (Van den Haag & Conrad, 2013).
Another pro of death penalty is its role in retribution with the belief that it is right to punish those who deserve it (Ren, Zhang, & Zhao, 2015). Supporters argue that it is obscene for murderers who behave well in prison to sit around and watch football when their crimes have caused unimaginable pain to the victim’s family. Thus, it is supported that the person who inflicts death on another, the same should be served to them as an equal measure of justice to the victim and their family.
Supporters of the death sentence argue that heinous crimes must be served with death, as there is no correction available for such criminals. Murderers, rapists, and individuals charged with treason can perform no action to make up for the crimes they have already committed. No sentence in prison can appear as an equal measure of justice to a criminal that has led to the loss of one or countless lives (Van den Haag & Conrad, 2013). It is for this reason that capital punishment exists to serve as justice to the grieving, and to help protect society from further harm from the sentenced as well as other criminals plotting the same.
Cons of Death Penalty
Capital punishment is severely opposed globally with more and more people advocating for other forms of punishment to individuals who should face a death sentence. Most abolitionists argue that serving a wrong with another makes no justice and that no human reserves the right over another human’s life, despite their actions. The major strength of the abolitionists’ debate is that life does not belong to any human being and that no one should hold the power to take it from anyone (Hood & Hoyle, 2015). Anyone who does that commits a crime that should be punished appropriately and causing pain by murdering the criminal should be not be the punishment. In a forward-moving society, death penalty should be regarded as a matter of the past, and its abolition regarded paramount for the betterment of society.
Research has proven that there is a minimal impact on the death sentence on deterrence, as elucidated by societal studies now and before. In the 19th century, there was a shift from publicizing executions to making them private from the public eye, which was a result of a growing state of anarchy, which had been yielded by public executions (Bindler & Hjalmarsson, 2017). This not only opposes publicizing death sentences but also incorporating them in our society. There is more chaos inflicted by death sentences, as it creates a bad image for the justice system as well as the law. ‘Freethinkers’ feel that the system is rigged and that it fails to direct society on the rightful track, which is a result of such policies that make the society no better than the criminals it attempts to convict (Van den Haag & Conrad, 2013). Life is sacred and should be treated as such at all times.
In the argument raised by supporters about closure for victim’s families, the abolitionists believe that rather than healing society, death penalty creates more wounds, acting as a constant reminder of how unfair the system is, in its focus on punishment rather than healing. The society has and should always strive to be better. It is, therefore, crucial to understanding the impact that the death sentence has, which is not of healing to the victims of heinous crimes but rather worsening of the healing (Hood & Hoyle, 2015). The criminal also has a family, who despite understanding the acts committed by their relative, must be hurt on the loss of one of their own. It is better if the society focuses on healing victims, rather than executing perpetrators to act as justice as it only inflicts more pain, and thus, resulting in injustice. Life must be highly regarded, and any individual that takes it is no better than the heinous crimes they attempt to silence.
Impact of Publicizing Death Penalty
Publicizing executions have proven disastrous in the past with the creation of anarchy and anti-government perceptions among the public. It is for this reason that today’s executions are conducted privately with access limited to a select few. Public prosecutions in the past have heightened losses of property with people yearning to see the act in large numbers (Van den Haag & Conrad, 2013). Public prosecutions create a bad image for a nation’s government to the society, appearing as criminals themselves for inflicting such pain on one of their own regardless of the committed crimes. It is, thus, apparent that publicizing executions will only cause more harm than good on a society and its government. Abolition is the best way to go with the provision of alternative punishments for criminals convicted of heinous crimes. Betterment of the judicial system as well as corrections’ department will help forge a stronger society with the promotion of liberal policies, freedom, and democracy, serving as a protector rather than part of the problem (Hood & Hoyle, 2015).
As a summary of the heated debate, the abolition of death penalty is the way to go for democratic and forward moving world. The rights of an individual must be respected at all times, regardless of their actions. Healing fire with fire only inflicts more problems on society and makes the government, precisely the judicial system, to appear barbaric. Acting similarly to the criminal only hurts the public image, and results in a loss of the importance of justice to the society. Justice should target healing, rather than punishment mostly on the affected individuals, most notable victims of the crime. Killing the perpetrator does not serve as justice to the individuals, but only conflicts more pain to other resulting victims. The government should introduce appropriate punishments for criminals charged with heinous crimes against humanity with regard to the respect of life, which is beyond human power. Publicizing the executions only worsens the situation as it makes society lament on the role of justice. In case a criminal is wrongly convicted to death, it may result in a major state of anarchy that serves the society no good. Death sentences should be abolished, and the judicial system should be better to accommodate futuristic policies that advances humanity, rather than taking the society back to a world of anarchy and barbarism. Life is sacred and irreplaceable, and should always be treated as so with respect and protection, in all situations, regardless of crimes committed by an individual.
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It is evident that there is a growing decline in the support of death sentences globally, which makes it critical for governments to offer reforms to not only the specific policy but also justice as a whole. Justice should focus on healing wounds, rather than inflicting more, which is the case of capital punishment. Acting in the same way that a criminal act makes the society no better, and it is thus paramount that the society devise new policies, aimed at upholding human life and causing justice in accordance with morality. Public executions promise more harm than good in society as depicted historically, and introducing them will only worsen the bad situation that the world is in now. It is abolition that would rightfully serve the world, advancing it to a more democratic and life-respecting future.
- Bindler, A., & Hjalmarsson, R. (2017). The fall of capital punishment and the rise of prisons: How punishment severity affects jury verdicts. Working Papers in Economics. University of Gothenburg.
- Hans, V. P., Blume, J. H., Eisenberg, T., Hritz, A. C., Johnson, S. L., Royer, C. E., & Wells, M. T. (2015). The death penalty: Should the judge or the jury decide who dies? Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, 12(1), 70-99.
- Hood, R., & Hoyle, C. (2015). The death penalty: A worldwide perspective. OUP Oxford.
- Ren, L., Zhang, Y., & Zhao, J. S. (2015). The deterrent effect of the castle doctrine law on burglary in Texas: A tale of outcomes in Houston and Dallas. Crime & Delinquency, 61(8), 1127-1151.
- Van den Haag, E., & Conrad, J. P. (2013). The death penalty: A debate. Springer Science & Business Media.