The issue of capital punishment has been an ongoing controversy for many centuries. Punishment by death has been in practice since its first appearance in Babylonian writings by Hammurabi dating to 2000 B.C. This form of punishment was later termed as “capital punishment.” Abolitionists of capital punishment rely on the eighth amendment for support. Stating that the execution of an inmate regardless of its manner is cruel and unusual punishment. Abolitionists also believe that the punishment is unnecessary and is not cost effective for the American taxpayers. Finally, abolitionists depend on the moral issue of the death penalty to band capital punishment. Capital punishment advocates depend on religious sanctions to justify the death penalty. Those who are for capital punishment believes that it maximizes public safety through incapacitation and deterrence.
In 1972, Furman v. Georgia, a case about the death penalty, was brought before the Supreme Court. The court held that the death penalty was given in an arbitrary way for a variety of crimes. At this time the court also held that the death penalty focused mainly on African Americans and the under privileged. This ruling stopped short of actually outlawing the use of the death penalty, but it gave the states fair warning that the death penalty was in dire need of modification. Later in 1976, in the case of Woodson v. North Carolina, the Supreme Court ruled that mandatory death penalties were unconstitutional. However, later in 1976 in the case of Gregg v. Georgia the Supreme Court ruled that under adequate guidelines, the death penalty was not considered cruel and unusual. Therefore was not protected under the eighth amendment right that prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.
Studies have been done contradicting the Supreme Court’s ruling stating that the death penalty is not cruel and unusual punishment. The process in which the body goes through during an execution is in its self-cruel and unusual. In most cases, the execution is very slow and painful. It is cruel to dispose of a human life just to incapacitate them. With these reasons, the death penalty can be easily seen as cruel and unusual.
After a person is convicted and put on death row, one of five methods of execution can be used; depending on what state the inmate is in. The average death row inmate spends 10 long years awaiting their execution. This long arduous wait is cruel and unusual in itself. Lethal injection, electrocution, gas chamber, hanging, and firing squad are the five options an inmate has to choose from for death. Since 1976, 400 people have received lethal injection, 142 electrocution, and 11 by the gas chamber, three hanged, and two people have been killed by firing squad. During the process of lethal injection, many horrific problems may arise. For example, one man had a long and agonizing reaction to the chemicals used before dying. In addition, executioners needed assistance finding a usable vein in another inmate.
During electrocution, the prisoners strapped into a char and their shaven head and legs are attached with electrodes. The temperatures inflicted through the human body reach 1,900 degrees Fahrenheit and the brain can reach boiling point. Due to the high temperatures of the first volt, the body begins to jerk involuntary and the eyes may pop out of the sockets. These reactions are often prolonged because the body is not yet dead. After shocks may occur to finally kill the inmate. In the gas chamber, the prisoner is strapped into a chair that is in a small room, harmful gasses are emitted causing suffocation. In many instances, it takes eight to ten minutes for the person to die.
The cost effectiveness of putting an inmate to death or keeping them for life is an arguable point in itself. One piece of evidence shows that it is cheaper for an inmate to stay in prison for life than be put to death. Overall, 2 million dollars of taxpayers is spent per execution whereas lifetime incarceration is $600,000 to $800,000 per inmate depending on their life expectancy. Therefore, the death penalty is unreasonable for the prisoners and the American people. The same Abolitionist State that the money spent on executions would be better spent on rehabilitation, but it has been found by John Douglas a FBI agent. He has been put on many of the premiere investigations of some of the most famous serial killers and the author of “Journey into Darkness” states, “Where there is no hope for rehabilitation-and this is based on years of research and experience-when we deal with serial killers and sexual predators, the people I have spent most of my career hunting and studying.
These people do this because it feels good, because they want to, and because it gives them satisfaction.” However, according to the book Capital Punishment in the United States, in 1992 the state and federal prisons reached a record high of 883,593 prisoners, therefore 1,143 prison bed spaces are needed per week due to overcrowding. These numbers translate as such that an average prisoner cost $22,000 dollars per year, and the cost of new construction averages $54,000 dollars. Thus, 883,593 prisoners are costing the taxpayers approximately $19.4 billion plus another $61.7 million for the construction of the 1,143 added spaces. This compared to a death row inmate who has to spend an average of nine years and six month in jail has a cost of $22,000 per year, plus the cost of construction during those nine years, in addition to the execution comes to $690,000 dollars. While the inmate with a life sentence of 60 years, the jail time plus construction would approximately be $4,560,000.
Abolitionist of the death penalty believe that there is also a moral issue involved. They believe that the death penalty has a brutalizing and corrosive effect on society. The death penalty teaches that it is right to be vengeful against your wrong doer. It also desensitizes society by destroying the natural horror of bloodshed. The most important reason the death penalty is corrosive is that it cheapens the sanctity of life. If society is willing to kill, its killers then that makes society as a whole more savage and uncivilized than the executed. Studies have also shown that states with no death penalty have a lower crime rate (3.5 percent as an average) than to those those do have it (6.6 percent).
Another converging fact is that the death penalty is not a deterrent to crime. Police chiefs placed the death penalty last in reducing violent crimes with reducing drug abuse as being the first. The death penalty is not a deterrent because most violent crimes are committed in fits of rage, drug abuse, or because of psychological problems. Others say that capital punishment maximizes public safety through incapacitation and deterrence. Webster’s definition of incapacitation is “depriving a person of the physical or intellectual power of natural of illegal or legal qualifications.” Therefore executions take away the ability of a person and forcible prevents the reoccurrence of violence. Webster states that deterrence is the “act or process of discouraging and preventing an action from occurring.” Therefore, with the possibility of execution a potential murderer thought process would pause and the image of the execution could potentially prevent the reoccurrence or occurrence of murder.
Capital punishment is found rectifiable by its religious decent. The Bible clearly states many different laws and situations in which the death penalty can be used. In Genesis, 9:6 it states whoso sheddeth man’s blood; by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God man is made. This passage states the killing of a human is an offense against God because man was made in the image of God. Within the biblical books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, which are in the Old Testament text, many other crimes other than murder were punishable by death. Practicing another religion was ground for execution, Exodus 22:20 states he that sacrificeth unto any god; save unto the LORD only; he shall be utterly destroyed.
Explicit sexual activity was grounds to be put to death as well as adultery. Several other crimes are punishable by death, which include: bestiality, sexual activity before marriage, rape, kidnapping, incest, and human sacrifice. Although the New Testament does not have a code of laws, which indicate which crimes, are punishable by death there are some indications and references to capital punishment that show it was still being followed. For example in Romans 13:1-5 Paul writes in verse 4: For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. The Islamic religion also has strict laws and stipulations towards the death penalty. Lebeed Alkadhi who is a member of the Islamic Center of Raleigh states, “That there are scriptures that specify the crime and the punishment.” He also states “The law is very clear cut and there must be witnesses of the crime for the penalty to be imposed.”
Because of the controversies, surrounding capital punishment there is little common ground between the tow sides. Many hope that the ineffectiveness of capital punishment as being a deterrent would convince others to abolish it. The future of the death penalty does however rest primarily on the legislative authority. The future of capital punishment may soon depend on popular opinion.