Capital Punishment and Deterrence to Crime

The issue of capital punishment has over the years elicited serious concerns causing endless debates on the legitimacy, morality or even the justness of executing criminals convicted of serious crimes. There is a multi faceted campaign against the practice which has led to many countries abolishing it as they take to considerations issues raised by international human rights group including the UN (Schabas, 2002, p12). Clearly, part of the concerns arises largely because of ethical as well as aesthetic considerations. Others arise due to the presence of the risk of errors inherent within the justice system and which are more often aggravated by interference of the legal systems by politics, culture and personal corruption. The fact that the occurrence of such errors cannot be undone in the case of the death penalty leaves room for the lives of innocent people being ended unjustly. In this paper focus is on the ability of the application of capital punishment to deter crime.

Deterrence of crime entails the effect of stopping potential criminals from engaging in criminal activity on the basis of the expected consequences of engaging in the activity. This being the case it becomes quite difficult to establish the exact effect capital punishment has in a jurisdiction as it may not be very clear who are the potential murderers, rapists and other criminals (Ehrlich, 1975, p400). The issue is thus very argumentative. While a vast majority admit that employing death as a punishment is too harsh and unethical, a sizeable number agree that the presence of capital punishment has inherent benefits of deterring crime.

I conducted a survey involving ten people from different backgrounds, age and sex. The main intention in the survey was to establish the general feeling held among the people on the ability of the death penalty to deter crime. Out of the ten people, a whooping 7 individuals agreed with the assertion that the penalty is effective. They base their answers on different reasons in line with the different ways in which they view the punishment.

Some experts argue that all humanity is afraid of death. Except for suicide victims who often are not in their right mind, all other persons always seek to avoid death as is defined as the most fatal harm on humanity (Beccria,1974, p13). Consequently, the idea of punishment by death provokes extreme emotions among people which to make them refrain from engaging in the activities which could provoke the punishment. Indeed, this was the main point raised by most of the seven individuals I interviewed in the survey.

On the other hand, there are numerous opposing voices across the globe. They put forward several arguments to prove otherwise. First, there is an argument that most of the serious crimes which warrant the application of the death penalty occur between parties who are not strangers. They are either elicited by conflicts which result to strong emotions or some form of economic gain. These causes are deemed stronger than the thought of the death penalty at the time of committing the crime (Becker, 1968, p232). This may be supported by the fact that most of the countries which have not outlawed capital punishment still have some of the highest rates of capital crimes (Carol, &Jordan, 1995, p358).

Consequently, despite the survey’s findings, it is clear that it is better to deal with the underlying causes of capital crimes than employing harsh penalties as this will give better results in deterring crime. Capital punishment should indeed be changed to life imprisonment.

Reference List

Beccria, C. (1974). An essay on Crimes and Punishment. London

Becker, G. (1968). Crime and punishment. An economic approach. Journal of Political economics, 78.

The article assesses the effectiveness of the capital punishment using economic approach. The incentive and disincentives for crime form the basis of the decision making even in social situations such as crimes.

Carol S. Steiker and Jordan M. Steiker (1995). Second Thoughts: Reflections on Two Decades of Constitutional Regulation of Capital Punishment. Harvard Law Review, Vol. 109, No. 2 pp. 355-438. Web.

The article relooks at the developments of issues pertaining to the use of capital punishment across the world for a period of about twenty years starting in the 1970’s. It profiles the countries which abolished the death penalty and the reasons for the abolishment.

Ehrlich, I. (1975). The deterrent effect of Capital punishment. A question of life and death. The American Economic Review. 65(3), pp. 397-417

The article assesses the ability of capital punishment to deter crime rate across America. It combines surveys done from relevant authorities as well as feedback from criminals themselves in developing conclusions.

Schabas, W. (2002). The Abolition of the Death Penalty in International Law, 3rd Ed. Frontmatter. Cambridge University Press

The book profiles the process undertaken towards the abolishment of capital punishment in international laws and the reasons for such abolishment. It also provides the effects of such actions on countries still employing the punishment.

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