The controversy of capital punishment

By: Olivia Knafla

Image taken from: safecalifornia.org

The death penalty, otherwise known as capital punishment, has been a very controversial subject for quite some time. There are many arguments both for and against the death penalty, and in this article we will be exploring both sides and their reasonings.

The first argument that we will be looking at revolves around the following idea: many people who would otherwise commit a violent crime are deterred from doing so as they don’t want to risk execution. However, there is no real proof of this situation ever taking place, or at least any that has been recorded to date. I won’t stay on this topic for too long, however, it was worth mentioning as it is commonly brought up in debates between whether the death penalty is right or wrong.

The death penalty also presents a financial issue. According to the Death Penalty Information Center (DIOC), it costs more to execute a prisoner than it does to keep them incarcerated for the rest of their life. It’s not necessarily the execution itself that is so expensive (sometimes reaching the millions), but instead, the extensive trial leading up to it.

Under the Constitution, every U.S. citizen is granted the right to a fair trial, meaning that oftentimes death row inmates require very experienced lawyers. On top of that, DNA testing is a common thing to be used in these trials, and it’s not exactly cheap.

Outside of the trial, death row inmates spend their entire stay on death row apart from general prison populations. They stay in special buildings, which require additional upkeep and guards. From the DIOC again, it is stated that these buildings alone cost states millions more annually than what it would have taken to sentence these inmates to life imprisonment.

All this being said, for those against the death penalty, this presents a solid case for their argument, saving both money and human lives. However, many people who are in favor of the death penalty argue that justice cannot be thought of in financial terms. Some people believe that the money is worth spending to rid the world of criminals who have committed the worst of crimes, and many people have expressed that opinion on online forums such as Reddit and Quora. 

The final issue we will be looking at today is that of false conviction. This is possibly the most spoken about, and it presents a great controversy among people.

It is estimated that 1% of the US prison system, or roughly 20,000 people, have been falsely convicted. However, when we focus solely on death row inmates, that percentage only increases.

A study by The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concluded that roughly 4% of people on death row were, and are likely, innocent. As of July 2020, states have executed 1,516 people since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. If you calculate 4% of that number, that leaves you with 60 people who were executed after being falsely convicted.

For those against capital punishment, this is enough evidence to get rid of it altogether. And while false execution is a serious risk and is not something to be overlooked, many people in favor of the death penalty believe that this is a risk worth taking.

On top of that, the trial leading up to the execution of an individual is quite thorough, with years or even decades between sentencing and execution. It is estimated that nearly a quarter of death row inmates in the United State die of natural causes while awaiting their execution date.

To conclude, there are many arguments that are both for and against capital punishment, and many people who believe in the statements for both sides. There are plenty of reasons to take one side or the other, but it seems that the controversy of this issue will not be going away anytime soon.

When it comes down to it – is it moral to punish somebody by taking their life? That’s for you to decide.

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