Indeed, the death penalty is one of the most divisive issues in the entirety of the criminal justice system as it currently exists within the United States of America. Although many polls do suggest that a majority of Americans ultimately do support the employment of the death penalty, it faces stern and strong opposition from a violent minority that radically opposes the death penalty for a variety of reasons, including the concerns that it is unfair for the state to deny an individual of his life, that it is racist in its employment, that it is more likely to be applied to defendants that cannot afford their own counsel, and that it is a terrible practice because mistaken executions are irrevocable and no fitting reparations can ever be made. Indeed, the concerns are so great that the United States Supreme Court even instituted a death penalty ban during the 1970s, and, even though it was eventually overturned, dozens of meritorious court cases questioning the death penalties legitimacy are filed yearly. There is little suggestion that the debate surrounding the death penalty will ever dissolve and, certainly, popular movies that discuss it, such as The Green Mile and Dead Man Walking, serve to drive home the fact that the issues surrounding the death penalty involve real people, including the killer, the victim, and the victims families.
Indeed, the difficulty with the debate often adds up to one in which people are arguing about a certain approach to an abstract ethical system and the experiential reality of those involved in and connected to a death-penalty case, which makes the entire issue suffused with an even more impressive and murky layer of complexity than if it were a mere issue of conflicting theories of jurisprudence. For example, many times the issues surrounding the death penalty will be approached from the angle that it amounts to the level of "cruel and unusual punishment" that is prohibited from being enacted in prison systems in the United States of America. At other times, certain forms of the death penalty are descried as being inhumane (this is often applied to the electric chair, for example) and people argue as to whether such forms of the death penalty should in fact be stopped altogether rather than allowed to proceed. Indeed, the consideration of human element of death penalty cases, however, is often overshadowed by the discussion of issues regarding its use in deterrence. Although some studies do suggest that high profile death-penalty cases may serve as a short-term deterrent to crime, often crime states seem unnaturally inflated after the pause, as if there is a sort of "bounce" effect. Other suggest that there is no really demonstrable deterrence effect at all. Regardless, however, even once these arguments are dispensed with, the debate typically centers on human claims, which is to say, the degree to which the death penalty is necessary in order to have a valid system of retributive moral punishments. Others claim that it is a necessary form of closure for the community, and for victims families.
Indeed, in all of the issues surrounding the death-penalty, it is strange how often the issue focuses on the rights of the killer, and how infrequently the feelings and thoughts of the victim's family is considered in any real depth. Indeed, aside from the victim who has been deprived of his life, who suffers more as the result of a murder than the family of the victim, who feels the loss of a loved one painfully and who is searching for some sort of understanding and reasoning as regards the death of that loved one. But, while often the rhetoric for the death penalty is employed to suggest that it satisfies the vengeful feelings of the victim's family, how do victims' families typically feel about the employment of the death penalty? Do they view it as just and an appropriate response in terms of vengeance for the deceased, or do such feelings often not manifest themselves in such a clear and obvious way? Do they have doubts about the rightness of the death penalty and what is the overall effect of the death penalty upon them?
Moreover, there is a unique and strange custom involving the death penalty in many of the states where it is allowed in which the family of the intended victim is allowed to sit inside a viewing area where the can watch the execution of the murderer inside the death chamber. What is such a subjective experience like for the victim's family? Does it provide a sense of closure for those who decide to view the death, and how many families even decide to make that choice? Moreover, do those who witness the death continue to feel the same way after it is over, or do they begin to feel remorse or a continued sense of loss. A much greater amount of attention must be devoted to the feelings and concerns of victims families, and, indeed, specifically, it must be decided whether the practice of death chamber viewing is in fact a positive and useful experience for victims' families or whether such a process is damaging and hurtful in a way that acts in opposition to the original intent of allowing such viewings. What ultimately is the effect of these viewing and the general process of the criminal justice system in executing convicted killers according to the rules of law? Are families ultimately benefited by such practices, or is the reality that claiming that the death penalty and death penalty viewings help families to obtain closure little more than pro-death-penalty rhetoric?
Indeed, some critics claim that they the argument that families witnessing the execution of death penalty subjects is in fact not beneficial in the least, and that, rather than helping to deal with the stress, it is just as likely to cause damaging psychological effects that may create long-term problems, such as post-traumatic stress disorder. Indeed, one critic of this process conducted a study of 21 journalists who were allowed to witness a public execution in 1994 and discovered that it had severely damaging results on their psyches:
These men and women were displaying many of the reactions usually associated with acute stress. They had difficulty managing the emotions that the execution aroused. More than half of our sample said they felt distant from their own emotions, a third reported that they felt "confused and disoriented," 60% were "estranged or detached from other people," and more than half said they tried to "avoid thoughts or feelings about the execution." One-third reported feeling "despair or hopelessness," and 20% felt "uncontrollable and excessive grief." I happened to speak to the wife of one of them some six months later. When I asked how her husband was doing, she replied: "He is a basket case. If he ever covers another execution, we're getting a divorce."
Indeed, while in this particular instance Spiegel is forced to admit that none of the people involved in his study were in the families of the victims of the man convicted of killing, he still believes that the results are applicable to victim's families as well. Indeed, it seems only more likely that victims' families, who very likely will have already been suffering from intense amounts of emotional and psychological stress as a result of the death of their loved one, will probably suffer an even greater amount of psychological trauma in relation to the event, because they came in with already unstable mind-states. In this particular instance then, instead of providing a sense of closure it is extremely like that it will only disturb them further adding to the stress and grief that has amassed since the death of their loved ones.
But, despite the seeming logic behind this psychological understanding of the situation in which seeing the death of killer would only add to the psychic distress and perturbation of victim's families, is it actually correct? Indeed, many victims would not agree with that statement. The reality is that there certainly is, whether or not is healthy, a very distinct difference between the sample of reporters that were unrelated to the people involved in the case, and the families of victims. Indeed, victims may be so enraged at the killer and feel such a strong sense of vengeance that very possibly seeing this execution does not cause them the same level of stress because they are prepared for it in a different way. Indeed, in some extreme cases, members of victims families have even complaide that the current methods of employing the death penalty may be too humane:
Retribution and scant pity for the murderer dominate the thinking of those who fervently back the penalty - especially the victims' relatives. The first relative allowed under a new Texan law in 1996 to witness the execution of the murderer recalled how "I would like to have seen him humiliated a bit. I think he should have been brought…