The death penalty is surrounded by a significant number of myths. For instance, proponents of the death penalty may claim that it deters violent crime and does it cost-effectively. However, in practice, the death penalty has no positive impact neither on the criminal justice system nor on society. In its essence, the death penalty is an unethical and cost-ineffective form of punishment that has no place in a civilized country.
In terms of morality and ethics, the death penalty is guilty of the worst crime — the possible execution of innocent people. For reference, an average of 3,94 wrongly convicted death-row prisoners have been exonerated in the U.S each year since 1973 (Death Penalty Information Center, “Facts about the Death Penalty”). In addition, the death penalty creates inhumane conditions for the prisoners. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, they wait more than a decade on average before execution or exoneration, spending as many as 23 hours a day alone in their cells (“Time on Death Row”). Such a situation makes death-row prisoners subject to two punishments — the death sentence itself and years of solitary confinement. Lastly, the death penalty is cruel towards the victims’ family members — they await a “closure” for years only to live with grief and traumatizing experience instead of moving on. On the contrary, a life-long prison sentence satisfies the victims’ families. In the words of John Wolfe, a father who lost two daughters, seeking the death penalty would have dragged on the family’s agony (Death Penalty Information Center, “Victims’ Families”). Therefore, the death penalty is unethical and immoral to all parties.
Secondly, the death penalty is highly ineffective, both in terms of violent crime deterrence and the cost-effectiveness of the criminal justice system. For example, in 2004 in the U.S., the average murder rate for states that used the death penalty reached 5,71 per 100.000 population. In the states without the death penalty, the rate was 4,02 murders per 100,000. On the contrary, twenty-seven years since death penalty abolition in Canada led to a 44% reduction in the murder rate (Amnesty International. “Does the Death Penalty Deter Crime?”). Regarding finances, the death penalty leads to a significant increase in expenditures for the criminal justice system. In 2008, the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice concluded that the current system costs $137 million per year. A system with lifetime incarceration would have cost $11,5 million annually (Amnesty International. “Death Penalty Cost”). Finally, the death penalty would not reduce the prison population — even a simultaneous execution of 2,436 U.S. death-row prisoners would make no difference compared to millions of inmates (Death Penalty Information Center, “Death Row USA”). As such, the death penalty does not deter violent crime and increases costs for the criminal justice system.
Given these facts, the death penalty must be considered an unethical and cost-ineffective punishment. In the ethical aspect, the death penalty may lead to an irreversible mistake — the execution of the innocent. Furthermore, it causes prolonged suffering to the victims’ families and puts potentially innocent prisoners in inhumane conditions. The cost-effectiveness of the death penalty appears to be nothing but a myth as well, likely due to the high investigative costs. Overall, the death sentence should be universally replaced with lifetime incarceration, and extra funding should be allocated to crime prevention and victim support programs. The criminal justice system could use funds diverted from the death penalty to improve other crime control measures.
Amnesty International. “Death Penalty Cost.”
Death Penalty Information Center. “Death Row USA.” DPIC.
—. “Facts about the Death Penalty.” DPIC.
—. “Time on Death Row.” DPIC.
—. “Victims’ Families.” DPIC.