Capital punishment is still enforced in many countries, such as the USA and China. We discuss the pros and cons of death penalty and whether it should be abolished. If you care about this issue, leave your comments and share the debate.
Capital punishment is at the centre of one of the most significant moral debates in modern societies. Theorists and proponents of, both, utilitarian and retributive justice have historically discussed whether it is morally acceptable for the state to execute people, and if so under what circumstances. Although the death penalty has been abolished, either by law or practice, by more than 140 countries, it is still used in a big part of the world. According to Amnesty international, the number of countries implementing executions each year over the last couple of years is 22.
China has been consistently the country with the most executions and the USA is among the five top executioners. Murder and drug-trafficking are the most common crimes punishable by death, although in some countries adultery, witchcraft, or political activism can also incur capital punishment. Lethal injections, hanging, shooting, and electrocutions are some of the most common methods used for the death penalty.
Death penalty pros and cons
- One of the most common justifications for the death penalty in the Western world is that it acts as a deterrent of capital crimes, as the fear of death and the horror of the execution might prevent people from committing serious crimes.
- It is also considered to be the appropriate retribution and deserved punishment for really horrific crimes. Criminals who commit capital crimes have reached a point where rehabilitation is impossible and for some life in prison might increase criminal behaviour. The death penalty, therefore, prevents crimes for recurring and protects society.
- Further moral arguments suggest that capital punishment provides closure for the families of the victims and that punishment should fit the crime in order for justice to be served.
- Finally, there are practical arguments put forward. The death penalty helps ease overpopulation in prisons and it ensures that less tax payers' money is spent for the maintenance of individuals that have acted against society in the most violent way.
- It can also be used as an important negotiating tool for the police and the justice system, as where the possible sentence is death, the prisoner has the strongest possible incentive to try to get their sentence reduced, and therefore are likely to help with investigations.
These arguments are rebuked by opponents of capital punishment.
- Executions, they argue, are cruel and immoral. Human life is valuable and everybody has a right to live. No one has the right to take away a human life, not even organised states.
- Human rights activists argue that death penalty is a form of revenge against offenders and revenge is not necessarily about social justice.
- Another important argument supported by abolitionists is that the death penalty discriminates against minorities and the poor, as it is people from these groups that are more likely to be sentenced to death. For example, although African Americans make up only about 13% of the US population, almost 50% of convicts on the death row are African American.
- There is also always the possibility of a wrongful verdict that might irrevocably sent innocent people to the death row.
- Finally, opponents of capital punishment argue that empirical reality disproves some of the arguments of defenders of the death penalty. There is no proof that the death penalty or long prison sentences have a strong deterrent effect. Crime rates are no lower in countries with death penalty.
- Furthermore, the costs of carrying out a death sentence can be much more expensive than keeping a criminal in jail, due to legal costs, number of appeals but also security and incarceration costs.
It is for these reasons that opponents of the sentence ask for the death penalty to be abolished.
Where do you stand in this debate? After looking at death penalty's pros and cons, do you consider that capital punishment is a fair and appropriate measure for atrocious crimes or is it inhumane and should be banned?
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Is capital punishment a fair and appropriate measure for atrocious crimes or should it be banned?
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