For most crimes committed in the United States a fine, sentence of time in jail or execution is the punishment. However, the death penalty is the most questionable punishment. Is it morally right? Is it effective in deterring crime, primarily murders? Weather or not you agree if it is moral or not, one issue remains. The death penalty is not an effective way to deter crime.
The death penalty has existed as long as humans have existed. The quote "an eye for an eye" is found in the Bible. In the middle ages fines, public humiliation and imprisonment were appropriate punishments for all crimes, and death penalty for all murders. Today, Federal law states that the death penalty is to be enforced with convicted criminals for: treason; deserting armed forces during wartime; murder committed by a soldier; kidnapping and murder that involves crossing state lines; murder committed during an airplane hijacking; and of course, homicide. The death penalty is also called for punishment of for: attempting to kill anyone investigating or prosecuting his or her activities; advising, directing, authorizing or assisting in the murder of someone. Also, The Anti-Drug abuse act of 1988 calls for the death penalty for all drug related killings. Along with that, The bill amending sec. 848 to controlled substances act calls for the death penalty or life imprisonment for certain drug offences possession of 10 or more kg of heroin, cocaine, phencyclidine or analogue. Added to that, The drug kingpin act sates the use of death penalty for convicted major drug dealers caught with huge quantities of drugs, over 66 lbs. of heroin and 330 lbs. of cocaine. Even though there are these federal laws requiring the use of the death penalty for the crimes, State laws only consider one crime, murder, to be a capital offense.
In the United States alone there have been 4047 executions since 1930, and 188 were from 1977-1996. In 1996, there were a total of 15,168,100 arrests; 33,050 for forcible rape; 1,506,200 involving drug violations and 19,020 for murder and non-negligent manslaughter. The death penalty was enforced 45 times. The death penalty is an expensive punishment, since 1976 the united states have spent 700 million dollars in it. Methods of the death penalty include lethal injection, gas chamber, electric chair, hanging and fire squad. In a 1986 poll 70% of Americans favored the death penalty as a punishment for murder.
There have been many comparisons of crime rates of death penalty states to non- death penalty states. These clearly show that the death penalty has no effect on the deteration of crime. The homicide rates in Michigan, Ohio and Illinois rise and fall along with Wisconsin. Michigan, Ohio and Illinois all have the death penalty. Wisconsin does not. In 1994, the average murder rate in a death penalty state of a population of 100,00 was 8.0, for a non-death penalty state, 4.4. In Canada the homicide rate per 100,000 people was 3.09 in 1975, this was when they had the death penalty. In 1976 Canada got rid of the death penalty. In 1986 the crime rate decreased to 2.19 per 100,000 people, the lowest in 15 years. Isn't it odd that the crime rates were high with the death penalty and low without? Clearly this shows that the presence of the death penalty has no effect on the increase or decrease of crime rates. Even with the death penalty, crime rates continue to rise and fall in the United States. The number of people on death row in 1967 were in 1972: 200 and in 1997 3,100. Crimes will be committed weather or not death penalty is a method of punishment.
Many people believe that the death penalty isn't an effective way to deter crime. "The proposed drug death penalty is not only barbaric but also foolish: a temper tantrum masquerading as an act of government. It holds no promise for suppressing the drug trade, and may even be counterproductive" (Franklin E. Zimny) Time magazine, 1997 said 52% of Americans do not believe the death penalty deters people from committing crime. In a recent poll of police chiefs, 2/3 said they don't believe the death penalty deters crime but it is used as a political football by politicians. Some people aren't afraid of dying, either. They have realized that everyone must die, so they have no fear of dying at any moment of time. This fact also forbids the death penalty from being 100% effective. In Britain, 167 people were one death row. 164 of them said they witnessed at least one execution before the committed their crime. They committed the crime even though they had seen an execution before and that didn't scare them.
Since the death penalty has no effect on the deteration of crime, what does? New York lowered crime rates by putting more police officers on the street, not by longer jail terms or death penalty. This was effective because if one thinks about it, if one was to rob a store, first he would look around about see if any police officers were around, and if he sees one ridding around the block and another patrolling the streets, he would think twice about it. Of course, hiring more police officers will cost a lot of money, but that will only be temporary. Criminals held in prison for long sentences means money now and money later, too. Also, the availability of handguns plays a major role in murder rates. It is a lot easier to kill someone by putting one bullet in his head then beating him, stabbing or strangling (there are chances they can live) if we decrease the availability of handguns by increasing the price or banning the sale, then there will be less murders. Another thought is slavery should be used as a punishment for crimes. If all the miserable moments of a slave's life were put together it would be more painful then any kind of punishment. In 1995 Hart Research Associated Poll asked law enforcement officers what they thought would help the deteration of crime. 31% said reduce drug abuse; 17% said better economy and jobs; 16% simplify court rules; 15% longer prison sentence; 10% more police officers; 3% reducing guns; and 1% expand death penalty.
There is some evidence, however that the death penalty is effective in the deteration of crime. "If all those caught producing addictive drugs, plus all of those caught selling addictive drugs in our country were confronted with capital punishment administered without recourse, by local authorities throughout our 50 states-then gradually this intolerable situation would be ameliorated and eventually conquered." (W.H. Long) in 1988, Arthur Bishop was executed. During that year there were 47 murders. Before the date of the execution there were 26 murders executed and after that there were 21. (19% difference). In 1960, 56 there were 56 executions and 9,410 murders. In 1964 there were 15 executions and 9,250 murders. In 1969 to 1975 there were no executions and 35,100 murders. This clearly shows that the number of murders rise and the number of executions decrease. Also, Isaac Ehrlich concluded from his research that every execution prevented 8 murders.
The death penalty is not an effective way to deter crime. The only way to deter crime is to prevent it from happening, rather then enforce harsh punishment to "scare" off potential crimes. Studies show that there is no relation between crime rates with death penalty states and crimes rates without.
Even though the death penalty seems like a favorable punishment for people who have committed crimes, it has no effect on the deteration of crimes. Statistics show that there is no relationship between the number of crimes committed in death penalty states and the number of crimes committed in non-death penalty states. While a majority of people believes the death penalty is a good punishment for crimes, they do not believe it helps get rid of and prevent crime. Other methods such as increased police officers and a decrease on the availability of handguns are 2 of many alternatives in prevention crimes. Enforcing a harsh punishment for committing a crime is not an effective way to prevent it from happening. Preventing crimes from happening is the most effective way to deter crime.
- "Crimes, Politics and Race" Harvard Journal of law and Public Policy Winter 1997: pg. 405
- "Death Penalty Information Center", 1997 http://www.esential.org/dpic/dpic.html (8 Feb. 1998)
- Nardo, Don Death Penalty San Diego: Lucent Books Inc, 1992
- Wekesser, Carol The Death Penalty: Opposing Viewpoints. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1991
- World Almanac and Book of Facts 1998 Mahwah, NJ: world Almanac and Book of Facts, 1997