Good Essay About Opposing The Death Penalty
Type of paper: Essay
Topic: Death, Crime, Punishment, Penalty, Criminal Justice, Death Penalty, United States, America
For decades, one of the most controversial issues in the United States has been the death penalty, in which criminals are punished by execution for their crimes. The notion itself is very divisive among many Americans; while some believe it is an outmoded idea that is not favorable to rehabilitation, a great deal of public support still exists for the measure to deter crime. However, looking at the actual numbers and statistics involved with the death penalty process, it is clear that the death penalty does not prove to be a cheaper measure, or a more humane one, than rehabilitation or life imprisonment. The prison costs and the justice system’s own inherent problems throw enough ambiguity into the issue of capital punishment that the American justice systems should consider abolishing the death penalty altogether.
Today’s concept of the death penalty is something that not many other countries besides America have joined. Already, there are 139 countries that have chosen to abolish the death penalty as a punitive measure, with only five countries left to do the vast majority of public executions: Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, China and the United States (Newport, 2010). Even within the United States, most states in America have not carried out the death penalty since 1976, which is when the law reinstated the death penalty as an option. Given the company that America keeps as nations that choose to execute their criminals, it may be good for the United States to become the 140th country that abolishes the death penalty. Many see the practice as barbaric and deeply conservative; America can avoid this bad public image (as well as comparisons with repressive countries like Iraq and Iran) by getting rid of it altogether.
As of late, there is still a fairly consistent level of public support for the death penalty, with 64% of people supporting it in instances of murder (Newport, 2010). However, this still leaves 36% who oppose capital punishment altogether. According to Amnesty International, in a poll weighing the death penalty against life without parole as punitive options, death penalty public support fell to about 50%, with the other half favoring a sentence of life without parole (AmnestyUSA, 2011). Having less public approval carries over to actual sentencing as well; America has experienced a sharp downturn in death sentence rates since the year 2000, dropping to the lowest rates experienced since 1976. America is also carrying out fewer executions, with only about 50 convicts every year killed by execution (AmnestyUSA, 2011). Since the death penalty is being used less and less often, the demand is clearly there to remove it completely as a practice due to its lack of use.
On top of the issue of its reduced use and favor, the very nature of the justice system makes it very likely that people will be executed who may be innocent. Statistics relating to the execution of possibly innocent convicts are eerily high, as numerous death row inmates have been let go regularly since 1973, as they were found to have been wrongfully convicted and only cleared after the fact. Of the 130 individuals who have been released from death row because of their innocence being proven through new evidence, prominent instances include the 2002 release of Ray Krone, who had been imprisoned for more than 10 years, only to be exonerated with a new set of DNA evidence (AmnestyUSA, 2011). Because of the possibility that people being put to death are innocent, we must be even more cautious and suspicious of letting the death penalty remain as a tool for punishment. Even states like New Mexico have already gone ahead and banned the death penalty, stating that “if the state is going to undertake this awesome responsibility, the system to impose this ultimate penalty must be perfect and can never be wrong” (AFP, 2009).
The injustices the justice system perpetrates against the poor and people of color further obfuscates and complicates this issue, as well. The justice system as a whole disproportionately targets African-American criminals over whites, creating a culture of discrimination that brings down harder sentences on blacks than whites (Williams, 2014). Even though almost half of murder victims in America are black, it is mostly in cases of black-on-white violence that the black defendants where the death penalty is levied (77%) (AmnestyUSA, 2011).
The biggest commonality between death row inmates, and one of the most important factors that goes into a death sentence, is the defendant’s race (AmnestyUSA, 2011). Judges and police officers will regularly discriminate against African-Americans at all stages of the justice process, from police brutality to disproportionately high sentences for offenses as compared to whites who perform the same crimes. The issue of judge override, in which judges can override the jury in a case, makes the justice system’s application even more suspect, making it doubly necessary to remove such harsh tools from the equation (Williams, 2014).
Even apart from the rampant discrimination, the possibility of killing an innocent person, and the decreasing interest in the death penalty, another reason the death penalty should be abolished is that it is cost-prohibitively expensive. Putting someone on death row takes a great deal of money, most of which comes from the taxpayers. They are also incredibly long, as the seriousness of death sentences involves much longer deliberations, more time spend picking juries and carrying out special motions, among other things (Williams, 2014). Death penalty trials themselves require a lot more spending from state to state than a non-death penalty trial (Erb, 2014). Kansas spends 70% more for death penalty sentencing than not, with each case costing an average of $1.26 million. When comparing this to the amount of money it would take to simply house a prisoner for life without parole (~$740,000), the cost-effectiveness of avoiding the death sentence is clear (AmnestyUSA, 2011). If the death penalty were abolished, that money could go into rehabilitation services, increasing law enforcement budgets, other crime control resources and victims’ services, and so on. With the abolition of the death penalty, much more money would go to the places it needed to go, without being wasted on a lengthy trial that results in the execution of a human being.
Given the inefficiency of the death penalty system, it is clear that it should not be allowed to continue. In today’s globalized world, America is one of the few countries that even bothers with the death penalty anymore, most other nations having banned it for being inhumane. Death sentences are costly to the taxpayer, lengthy, and are much more pricey than just housing a convict for life without parole. The justice system also unfairly targets minorities and brings about harsher convictions (such as death) upon them for no reason, and far too many death row inmates are later found innocent to make the risk worth it. Government inefficiency is a constant, which death penalty supporters should remember, because “the consequences of government error in the criminal justice system are far more profound” (Balko, 2014). Since the justice system is so imperfect, it is necessary to ensure we do not make our mistakes morbidly permanent.
AFP. "New Mexico governor bans death penalty." AFP. Web. August 12, 2011. <http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5iUcLhqwlBEQ6-b- J7rzRd2lSuv3g>.
Amnesty International. "U.S. Death Penalty Facts" Amnesty International USA. Web. August 10
Balko, Radley. “Why Conservatives Should Oppose the Death Penalty.” The Washington Post.
Web. May 1, 2014. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-watch/wp/2014/05/01/why-conservatives-should-oppose-the-death-penalty/%20>.
Erb, Kelly Phillips. “Considering the Death Penalty – Your Tax Dollars At Work.” Forbes. Web.
Newport, F. "In U.S., 64% Support Death Penalty in Cases of Murder." Gallup. Web. Nov. 8,
Williams, Paige. “Double Jeopardy.” The New Yorker. Web. November 17, 2014.