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Capital Punishment (soc essay)

Posted on April 29, 2010 at 8:25 PM

Capital punishment, also known as the death penalty, is the execution of a convicted criminal by the state. The death penalty is imposed in the case of “capital offenses”; usually in the case of murder, but it has also been used to punish such serious crimes as armed robbery, kidnapping, rape, and treason.

Historically, the execution of criminals and political opponents was used by nearly all societies; both to punish crime and to suppress political dissent. By the 1970’s death had been eliminated as a statutory punishment in many countries, including Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and most of Europe and Latin America. However, most developing nations, such as Iraq, Ethiopia, and Sudan still practice capital punishment. To this day 100 countries have formally, or effectively, revoked the death penalty, while about 90 countries still permit it, including most developing nations. The United States still remains the only Western industrialized nation that practices capital punishment.

Capital punishment is a very contentious issue in some cultures. Supporters of capital punishment argue that it deters crime, prevents recidivism, and is an appropriate form of punishment for the crime of murder. Opponents of capital punishment argue that it does not deter criminals more than life imprisonment, violates human rights, leads to executions of some who are wrongfully convicted, and discriminates against minorities and the poor.


"It is Justice, not Laws that cures the society. And Capital Punishment is the only Justice that suits a murderer.” --Saqib Ali

Supporters of the death penalty argue, first and foremost, that the execution of a murderer is justified. This stems from the biblical philosophy of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”, and denotes that any man who commits a crime deserves a just punishment to suit that crime. Therefore, any punishment less than death in response to murder would be unjust. Supporters also argue that the threat of capital punishment deters criminals from committing murder or other serious offenses, and thus prevents crime. So, in their view, the death penalty is justified because it punishes criminals and protects society.

Supporters further argue that life imprisonment is not only an unjust sentence for a murderer, but it puts fellow prisoners and prison staff at risk from being attacked. And since the murderer is in jail for life, he/she has nothing left to lose, and would have no incentive to restrain their violent or homicidal urges. Society also remains at risk, as the possibility of a convicted killer being pardoned or paroled is always possible while they’re still alive. A murderer may also escape from prison and re-enter society. In the case of capital punishment, however, the threat is eliminated, and society is protected from that killer.


“What will be left of the power of example if it is proved that capital punishment has another power, and a very real one, which degrades men to the point of shame, madness, and murder?” --Albert Camus

Opponents of the death penalty argue that it is a cruel and unusual practice, that has not right to exist within a civilized society. In response to those who favor capital punishment, they contend that criminologists have never established a direct relationship the death penalty and the murder rate, and that studies have shown no unusual increase in murders when capital punishment is abolished. They also argue that while The Bible maintains that a crime justifies its own punishment (i.e. “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”;), The Bible also makes it clear that execution has no place within a moral society (i.e. Thy shall not kill).

Capital punishment has not been proven to deter crime or protect the community better than a sentence of life imprisonment. Furthermore, since errors may occur in the criminal justice system, such as inconclusive evidence or unreliable witnesses, it is possible that innocent people may be sentenced to death. In the United States, between 1973 and 2005, 123 people were released from death row when new evidence of their innocence emerged. Opponent’s question how many people were killed before their innocence could be proved. They maintain that even a single case of an innocent person being executed is unacceptable. Another argument made against the death penalty is that it descriminates against the poor and the defenseless, who cannot afford lawyers or appeals.


In my opinion, capital punishment is wrong. How can anyone be in favour of the death penalty? What possible benefit or virtue can the execution of another human being yield? The act itself is bad enough, but the message it sends out; the kind culture it instills on its people is infinitely worse. The idea of capital punishment is based on revenge, not justice; that violence should be responded with more violence; that one death justifies more deaths, until "we all fall down". Supporters argue that the threat of execution prevents crime, but America is currently the only Western nation that still practices the death penalty, and it suffers from an appalling crime rate. Criminologists have found no correlation between the decline of criminal activity and the enforcement of capital punishment. In fact, historical analysis may suggest the opposite is true. This, again, is not so much based on the act of execution, by the idea it spreads. A country whose government believes violence solves violence is also a country where bullied teenagers come to school and gun down their classmates; where gangs wreak havoc across the inner suburbs; where terrorist attacks provoke open war. Violence has never, and will never, solve violence, no matter how much these “so called” civilized societies hope it will. And capital punishment is at the heart of this problem ... because it belittles the idea of a human life.

What if a person is wrongly convicted of a crime and is sentenced to death? The criminal justice system, while strong, is fallible, which means innocent people will inevitably be executed. In a country that does not practice capital punishment, these people would be incarcerated, and the possibly of proving them not guilty, and awarding them compensation, could still be achieved. But in the case of execution, there is no going back; death is absolute.

The bottom line is that the death penalty is a savage and barbaric practice that has no place within a civilized society. It is murder committed by the state, and until it is stopped, innocent people will die, and the society it claims to protect will rest on the brink of chaos and bloodshed.

Categories: ESSAYS, Sociology

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