The Death Penalty and Controversial Factors


Nowadays, there are many controversial factors that are subjects of active discussions. One of these factors is the death penalty, which is still applied today in some countries. Although the death sentence is rare, the world has not completely abandoned radical punishment. This factor is controversial, as it goes beyond the usual decision-making that does not affect a person’s life so critically. In addition, some religions prohibit the death penalty, as it is considered out of the framework of moral standards. To answer the question of whether the death penalty can be applied, it is necessary to analyze this from different perspectives. The death penalty should be commuted to life imprisonment, as it is outside the scope of human rights and is not a way to reform an individual, which is the main idea of punishment.

Arguments For and Against

The death penalty has its roots in ancient times; moreover, in the Middle Ages, it was much more popular than today. Death sentences were carried out with particular cruelty and it became the norm (Schabas 48). The prisoners were executed in front of thousands of people, turning it into a show. The purpose of this was to intimidate the population and to demonstrate that the retribution for the crime would be high. In addition, it was beneficial for the authorities to keep the population in fear because frightened people are easier to control. Further, people with fear are less likely to organize a coup or rally against the authorities. However, it articulates the reason why the death penalty should not be applied.

As already indicated, the death penalty was a popular sentence, and thousands of criminals were executed in the Middle Ages every month. The reason for this, as it is commonly believed, was to influence the underworld and reduce the number of criminals. However, as one can notice, the crimes did not vanish, and people continued to kill, rob, and commit other illegal acts. It is due to the fact that death is not really a frightening factor for some people. Moreover, in felonious circles, it is honorable for one to die for the idea of being a criminal. Therefore, the death penalty should not be carried out because it is not such an effective measure. A life sentence may formulate a far more daunting prospect for some people.

The next argument against the use of the death penalty is the vagueness of the degree of crimes severity for which it should be imposed. In today’s world, the authorities assure that the death penalty is reserved only for those who really deserve it, for the worst of the worst (Baumgartner et al. 4). However, such rhetoric is not accurate since it does not explain many factors. Firstly, the wording “worst of the worst” is rather subjective because, for each person, different actions are negative in different ways. Thus, one judge can believe that the offender deserves the death penalty for a certain crime. At the same time, another judge may actually think that the perpetrator should not be put on death row. In such a case, one cannot reliably say which of the judges is right. Thus, the offender should be and should not be tortured at the same time, which constitutes a paradox.

Besides, there is another vague and controversial factor in the death penalty process. From a human rights perspective, the individual has a universal right to life. Moreover, no one has the right to take an individual’s life, as it would violate the individual’s basic rights. In this context, one cannot reliably answer who has the right to nullify an individual’s right to life and impose the death penalty. One also cannot veraciously claim the reasons that a person (a judge) would receive as justified to nullify another individual’s right to life. Even though one may note that it is written in the legislation, one still cannot answer why the people who wrote the law got the right to kill other persons. All these inaccuracies and paradoxes disappear if the death penalty is replaced by life imprisonment because, in this case, the individual is isolated forever, and one’s basic rights are preserved.

The next argument against the death penalty is a violation of the basic idea of correctional institutions. Namely, the purpose of keeping criminals in prison is their awareness of their deeds, their improvement, and their return to normal life (Kaufman 33). However, the death penalty means killing the individual, and the person will no longer exist. It is quite logical to note that this fact violates the above-mentioned rule of the person’s moral qualities improvement. An individual cannot be confessed and return to normal once the person is killed. Thereby, there is doubt about the correctness of the application of this sentence.

However, this rule will be preserved if the death penalty is replaced by life imprisonment. Firstly, if appeals are filed, a life sentence can sometimes be commuted to a fixed term. In this case, the individual, having realized one’s deed and having suffered punishment, gets a chance to return to normal life. In addition, life imprisonment does not deprive a person of living, and one gets a chance to continue living in prison. Moreover, in some countries, there are relatively favorable living conditions in prison, with the opportunity to work and self-development. Therefore, the main purpose of sentencing remains, namely, the correction of the individual.

It is also worth noting that this opinion coincides with the historical basis of the idea of confinement. Throughout the history of the United States, the idea of the rehabilitation of the prisoner and the improvement of the person’s moral qualities has been strengthened (Smit 7). Additionally, it fits with the ideas of the Enlightenment, a movement that was gaining popularity at that time. It was believed that the prisoner should not suffer and be tortured, as it would only worsen the anger and cruelty. Confinement was a way of repentance, awareness, enlightenment, and improvement of the individual. In some cases, it helped people acquire that moral knowledge and qualities that could not be obtained without imprisonment. Certainly, such an idea is excluded under the death penalty, which formulates a radical and unconditional solution.

However, one might form a counterargument which is formulated by the fact that some persons cannot be confessed and, therefore, must be killed. It may apply to serial killers or repeat offenders, who, despite the sentence, are ready to commit crimes further. In this case, it is worth noting that under a life sentence, a person is isolated from society for life. In addition, for some people, the prospect of spending a lifetime in isolation and never seeing the world is even more daunting. Thus, life imprisonment can become a terrible punishment for those who deserve it.

Another counterargument may be the fact that the taxes of ordinary citizens finance life-sentenced prisoners. Thus, one can say that some violent criminals do not deserve to live at someone else’s expense. However, here comes into force the paradox that there is no clear boundary if crime deserves the death penalty or not. For example, the person committed one murder and was sentenced to a certain term, and the other individual performed 50 killings and was sentenced to death. However, the very fact of the murder remains the same, which formulates an inaccuracy in determining the degree of cruelty. In addition, as already indicated, the death penalty may be less terrible for some people than life imprisonment.

Further, many researchers believe that it is not completely clear what is a harsher punishment, the death penalty or life imprisonment. Thus, one of the significant sufferings for a prisoner is dealing with the overwhelming nature of long-time isolation, with no possibility to escape (Crewe et al. 2019). In contrast, the death penalty is the end of everything, and modern methods of killing are humane in contrast to the past. Certainly, the main fear of the death penalty is the awe of dying and of the unknown. However, it is not completely clear what is scarier for some people. In addition, one cannot calmly exist in isolation for the rest of one’s life. For some people, lifetime isolation is worse than death, given the many suicide attempts among life-sentenced prisoners.

Based on the aforementioned, one may notice that the application of the death penalty is a debatable factor. If the death penalty is replaced by life imprisonment, many problems will be solved. Given the historical development of civilization, namely the movement towards humanity and the reduction of cruelty, the death penalty seems inappropriate. It is articulated by the growth agenda in terms of human rights, equality, and other social issues. The manifestation of cruelty is strictly condemned, and the fulfillment of basic human rights is cultivated. In this regard, the death penalty is a factor that breaks this trend. This is a radical way of solving the problem as a manifestation of the extreme measures that can be taken.

In addition, the main ideas of the religions of some countries are contrary to the use of the death penalty. Thus, murder is considered a grave sin, and it is believed that every person deserves repentance. Even though in the modern world, it can definitely be interpreted in different ways; death is an unacceptably radical solution. Given the basics of religion, it could be a life sentence with socially beneficial action, rethinking, and repentance, and religion is another argument against the death penalty.


To conclude, the death penalty should be replaced by life imprisonment as a privileged alternative to such a radical decision. It is due to several major factors, one of which is the controversial effects of the death penalty. Further, it is contrary to the main idea of ​​correctional institutions, namely, the improvement of the individual’s moral qualities. In addition, the death penalty formulates some paradoxes of its own, such as the one indicated above about two judges. However, life imprisonment is a suitable alternative, which would be an appropriate punishment for those who deserve it.

Works Cited

Baumgartner, Frank, et al. Deadly Justice: A Statistical Portrait of the Death Penalty. Oxford University Press, 2018.

Crewe, Ben. Life Imprisonment from Young Adulthood: Adaptation, Identity and Time. Springer Nature, 2019.

Franck, Hans. The Barbaric Punishment: Abolishing the Death Penalty. BRILL, 2021.

Kaufman, Sarah. American Roulette: The Social Logic of Death Penalty Sentencing Trials. Univ of California Press, 2020.

Smit, Dirk. Life Imprisonment: A Global Human Rights Analysis. Harvard University Press, 2019.

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