It would seem that many criminals would find this more amusing than frightening. They do not take their chances of being caught and subjected to capital punishment seriously enough to be frightened by the penalty like many assume they will be (van den Haag, 2001).
According to some who believe in God and feel that capital punishment is acceptable under the scriptures, there is one main point, which is that "This is not an issue that may be measured accurately in terms of statistics. No one can ever know how many potential murderers have refrained from taking human life due to their fear of prosecution, conviction, and ultimate execution" (Jackson, 2003). It is also questioned during this same argument, though, by those who conclude that capital punishment is not a deterrent to violent crime, whether they should also be able to conclude that prison is not a deterrent either, since people seem to keep undertaking crimes, whether or not they think they will go to jail.
Another concern over capital punishment and violent crime is the issue of the mentally handicapped. They, along with juveniles, also undertake violent crimes on occasion. These mentally handicapped people, not to be confused with mentally disturbed or insane people, often have low IQs and do not realize what they have done. Capital punishment in their cases is not any deterrent. They do not even realize what they have done. One mentally handicapped man actually asked the jailers to save his dessert for him so that he could eat it after his execution. It was clear that he did not understand what the execution was about, no more than he understood the crime that he had undertaken. Executing people like this does nothing for society. Many people find it cruel, and even if it is not, it is certainly senseless. There are no significant lessons about not undertaking crimes that are learned by executing someone who is mentally handicapped (Reforms, 2002).
The same is true for juvenile offenders. Some juveniles who are convicted of violent crimes are locked away in prison until such time as they are old enough to be executed, which really does not teach juveniles anything valuable about capital punishment or avoidance of violent crime. More often than not, these juveniles are not executed, and most juveniles know that they will not receive capital punishment, even if they are tried as adults, so they are not deterred by the possibility (Radelet & Akers, 1996).
There are other arguments, but the most effective argument against capital punishment as a deterrent for violent crime appears to be the fact that crime has not gone down simply because capital punishment is out there (Death, 2000). States that have it do not have lower crime rates on average than states that do not have it, and that would indicate that capital punishment in and of itself is not preventing people from undertaking violent acts (Ikramullah, 2003).
Crime, including violent crime, has been with society virtually since the beginning, and it will remain with society until it ends. Nothing will prevent some people from undertaking violent acts, and capital punishment does not appear to be the answer. Sometimes, innocent lives are lost to this process, and many times the families of the victims do not experience the kind of closure that one would hope for simply because the offender has been executed. Since it would appear that even law enforcement does not see capital punishment as an answer to the problems of crime in society, one wonders why it is allowed to continue.
It is possible, however, that capital punishment would be a deterrent if it were used more swiftly and more often. Many people who are sentenced to death spend years in prison appealing their conviction and appealing their sentence, and this is a large waste of taxpayer money, as well as a huge burden on the court system. Those who are guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt often wait a long time for their sentence to be carried out. Even when DNA evidence shows that they were the guilty party, the execution is still not swiftly carried out, and this allows many criminals to find some way to avoid it.
Instead, they end up spending their life in prison, where they get hot meals every day, are allowed to exercise, and have a bed to sleep in every night. They watch TV and read books, and this is more than many of the hungry and homeless in today's society get. Criminals are treated better than many of these people. The criminals have lost their freedom, but they get a lot of things in return for that, and society is required to pay for them through taxes and other avenues that fund the prisons.
One is left to wonder why this is so, and whether capital punishment actually would work if everyone found guilty of a violent crime and proved guilty with DNA evidence and/or a confession was executed within a very short period of time. There would be less prison overcrowding, and appeals would not be allowed. Enacted in this way, capital punishment might be a better deterrent against violent crime, because the stakes would be much higher than they are now, and the chances of being executed would be much greater. It would give criminals more to think about when they were contemplating their violent crimes, and society (at least that part of society that supports capital punishment) would feel better about not supporting these criminals while they appealed and worked to save themselves.
It is also possible that more people would come to see capital punishment as a good idea if they could be shown that there was less prison overcrowding and that the amount of violent crime was actually dropping because of it. This might help society out in several ways, but it is unlikely that this will come to pass. There are always those who will fight for the rights of convicted prisoners, and argue that they are misunderstood.
There are also those who will maintain the opinion that killing is wrong, no matter who does it. Every individual is certainly entitled to their opinion, and it would appear that those who feel capital punishment is wrong are winning their battle, at least in some states, because executions do not take place very often. Even when they do occur, it is usually after a lengthy appeals process lasting many years and costing much money.
Since society will never be free of crime, dealing with that crime and controlling it has become the focus of law enforcement. If capital punishment can be improved and made to work, it should remain. If it cannot be changed so that it actually deters violent crimes, than perhaps it should be done away with in favor of a system that will actually lower the crime rate and work to prevent violent crimes in the future.
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Reforms required in capital punishment. (2002) the Christian Century.
Cook, Kimberly J. (1999) Against Capital Punishment. Social Forces.
Ikramullah, Mir M. (2003) Capital punishment: deterrent to crime?. The Spectrum Press.
Jackson, Wayne. (2000) Is capital punishment a deterrent? Christian Courier.
Johansen, Jay. (1998) Does capital punishment deter crime?. http://my.voyager.net/~jayjo/capdeter.htm.
Death Watch. (2000). The Nation.
Policy debate: is the death penalty an efficient crime deterrent. (2002) South-Western College Publishing. http://www.swcollege.com/bef/policy_debates/death_penalty.html.
Radelet, Michael L. & Akers, Ronald L. (1996) Deterrence and the death penalty: the views of the experts. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology.
Van den Haag, Ernest. (2001) the Ultimate Penalty... And a just one: The basics of capital punishment. National Review.
Walker, Samuel. (2006). Sense and nonsense about crime and drugs: A policy guidebook. Belmont, CA: Thomas Wadsworth.