The Death Penalty Is Not An Effective Deterrent

2123 words - 9 pages


The issue of the death penalty has been of great concern and debate for a number of years now. Prior to 1976, the death penalty was banned in the United States. In 1976, though, the ban was lifted, and many states adopted the death penalty in their constitutions. Currently, there are 38 states that use the death penalty, and only 12 states that do not. The states that have the death penalty use a number of ways to go about executing the defendant. Thirty-two states use lethal injection, 10 use electrocution, 6 use the gas chamber, 2 use hanging, and 2 states use a firing squad (Death Penalty Information Center, 1997). The 12 states that do not have the death penalty are Alaska, Hawaii, ...view middle of the document...

By analyzing different arguments for and against the death penalty, such as the "fear of death" myth, the cost of the death penalty, and the racial and economic bias of the death penalty, it can be shown that the death penalty is not an effective deterrent of crime.

The deterrence argument states that, "although executing the murderer neither prevents the death of the victim nor restores their life, instating the death penalty effectively prevents the deaths of other victims" (Nathanson, 1987). On the surface, this seems like a convincing argument, because of course, if the murderer is dead, then he/she will not kill again. The question is, though, does the death penalty prevent the potential killer from ever killing in the first place? Is it more effective than other forms of punishment? Supporters of the death penalty argue that the death penalty ensures that the murderer will not strike again. But doesn't life in prison without parole do the same?

Proponents of the deterrence argument say that the death penalty prevents murders because the killers, like everyone else, have a fear of death (Nathanson, 1987). I do not believe that this is a valid statement. Everyone does things that are risks to his/her life. Driving a car, riding a bike, rock climbing, swimming, smoking; we do these things for the need to get places, for adventure, excitement, pleasure, or out of mere habit, even though we know that they place some risk on our lives. It is also true, then, that murderers place risks on there lives when they kill. But just like everybody else, they do not stop what they are doing because there is a risk of death.

If the death penalty was administered more often, or if it was given to everyone who committed murder, then it would be a different story. If you knew that if you killed someone, you would automatically be executed, you might not choose not to kill. The fact is, though, that it is not certain that all murderers will be executed. Some will be found innocent, some sentences will be appealed, and some defendants will be found insane, and not even go to jail (Nathanson, 1987). The point is that right now murderers are not faced with the certainty of their deaths, but with only a risk. This is just like driving a car or smoking. In 1995, a total of 3,054 prisoners were sentenced to death. Of these individuals, only 56 were actually executed (U.S. Department of Justice, 1995). It is hard to fear for your death when there is a very small risk of actually dying.

It is also worth noting that some murders are committed by those who do not rationally think about the consequences. These murders occur in the heat of passion, in a state of panic or drug use, or are committed by a mentally ill person (Kreuter, 1997). Under these circumstances, the murderer is most likely not thinking about the chance of dying as a result of their killing.

There have been a number of studies on whether states that have the death penalty actually...

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