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Death Penalty and the Deterrent Effect

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Death Penalty and the Deterrent Effect


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Rehabilitation of criminals and protection of individuals in the society from lawbreakers who are not reformed are the two major objectives of the criminal justice system. Therefore, “doing justice” and “deterring others” are the ends of endeavors of the criminal justice system. The death penalty also referred to as capital punishment, is among the main ways that are used to achieve these ends. Nevertheless, it is an extremely questionable method which is among the most hotly debated topics in the society today. Is it useful in deterring crime primarily murder? Is it an ethically right means? Whether the use of capital punishment is ethically correct or not, one key issue remains; with or without the use of capital punishment, crimes are still committed in the society. The death penalty is not effective in deterring crime, and one cannot justify it based on its deterrent effect.

This essay offers numerous reasons to support the assertion that capital punishment does not effectively stop or inhibit crime, predominantly murder. Some explanations provided are that owing to their psychological state of mind, delinquents do not think through the possible outcomes of their actions when perpetrating an offense, and that it is the certainty of being apprehended and the punishment's severity that prevents crime. Further, countries that have abolished the use of capital punishment have better rates of murder when compared to those that use the death penalty, and evidence to show that death penalty truly deters crime is not available. The paper uses a wide array of research to support these explanations and in general, validate the key claim.

An offender’s psychological mindset is such that they cannot weigh up the potential consequences their actions can have before perpetrating the offense. According to Radelet & Lacock (2009), numerous crimes are crimes of passion which are carried out in circumstances comprising extreme excitement or even concern. Typically, homicides are perpetrated by criminals who are substance abusers, or people who act in an impulsive manner. According to the former Attorney General of Texas, Jim Mattox, the existence of the death penalty law did not deter a lot of criminals executed in Texas. This is because these offenders perpetrated the murders under severe alcohol as well as drug abuse (Death penalty information center, 2017). People who commit these crimes, therefore, are typically not in a normal mental state. This means that they do not think about the outcomes of their actions logically. Moreover, people who commit murder may not be in a mental state to composedly contemplate the likelihood of being arrested, tried and even executed. This is because appeals carry on for many years. Additionally, it is only roughly half of the criminals convicted of murder that are eventually put to death (Death penalty information center, 2017). As noted by Radelet & Akers (2011), deterrence can only be achieved in situations where punishment is both obvious and instantaneous. Neither of these is true for the death penalty. From all these, it is evident that the risk of execution would not make offenders change their mind; hence capital punishment is not an effective deterrent to crime.

According to Nagin et al. (2012), it is the certainty of getting apprehended or incarcerated that has been established consistently to sufficiently deter crime, but not the harshness of the ensuing consequences. This shows that capital punishment cannot be effective in deterring crime as it entails the enforcement of harsh punishment. One vital question that one would ask him/herself is: why would actual and also would-be killers be scared of the state’s actions? The notion that “when you kill, you are executed” would tremendously affect these two types of offenders. From this idea, one would conclude that capital punishment deters crime. On top of that, the society has a history of using capital punishment as a way of scaring individuals from carrying out criminal acts. A lot of people believe that because the society is extremely concerned about the prevention of murder, it must utilize the most severe as well as the highest form of deterrent, the death penalty. To them, if a murderer is sentenced to death and ultimately killed, the fear of losing life will deter potential murderers from committing this offense. Nonetheless, studies show the flipside of this. In contradiction of these pre-deterrent notions, Nagin et al. (2012) established that death penalty does not cause any deterrent outcome. This is because it has extremely harsh consequences and fails to offer any inevitability or guarantee of getting arrested when one commits the crime.

Research about the efficiency of the death penalty in the prevention as well as discouragement of crimes revealed that states performed better regarding homicide rates after banning the use of capital punishment than when this method was still enforced (Death penalty information center, 2017). If the death penalty were effective in deterring murder, abolishing it would result in increased homicide rates. This makes it evident that death penalty does discourage or prevent individuals from committing delinquency, especially murder. An example to illustrate that death penalty has provided statistics which portray its ineffectiveness in preventing crime is the Canada case. Canada decided to abolish the utilization of capital punishment in 1976. Prior to this, notably in 1975, there were 721 homicides committed in this country. In 2001, however, the killings perpetrated were 554. This is 23% lesser than the murders carried out prior to the elimination of death penalty. Another good example is the Michigan case. Michigan has fared better regarding the rates of murder since eliminating capital punishment (Death penalty information center, 2017). If the death penalty was indeed a deterrent, rates, as well as numbers of homicide, would have increased after its abolishment rather than diminish. Further, countries without capital punishment have lower crime rates than countries that still use this type of punishment. Notably, these nations have better homicide records than those that enforce capital punishment. The Death penalty information center (2017) reported that in the US, the rate of homicide is at least five times higher than in any nation without capital punishment in Western Europe. According to the Death penalty information center (2017), also, homicide rates in ten out of every twelve states that do not enforce the death penalty are less than the national average. On the contrary, virtually half of the states that enforce the death penalty have homicide rates that are higher than the national average. All these figures show that countries that do not enforce capital punishment have better rates of homicide compared to countries that use this type of punishment. While these figures indicate that countries utilizing capital punishment are causing a brutalization effect, the numbers show that death penalty is not producing any reduction in homicide cases or the number of murders committed.



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