The Death Penalty

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The death penalty has been around for centuries. Only recently have societies begun to question the validity and effectiveness of this ultimate punishment. Some of the issues surrounding this topic that will be covered are, how widespread the use of the death penalty is, is it an effective deterrent and my personal opinion about the institution itself and its use in youth cases. There are persuasive arguments and statistics for both sides, but that does not give a clear cut answer to this complicated question.

The use of capital punishment is used by twelve of the U.S. states and sixty-four countries worldwide; although, it was only sentenced in fifty-five countries and carried out in twenty-five countries. Japan is number one on the list, with 91% of all death sentences being carried out by China, followed by Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, Sudan, and the United States (Dubin, 2010 p69). In the United States, out of 17,000 reported murders, only about 110 were sentenced to death (Schaefer, 2008 p177).

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Whether or not capital punishment is a deterrent is widely debated. There have been several studies done and researchers believe, as suggested in Sociology: A Brief Introduction, that the death penalty does not serve as a deterrent. Such studies quote the murder rate in states that utilize the death penalty with those who do not, which show that states without are below the national average, generally speaking. Although, I think murder rates and capital punishments are not the only demographics to consider when looking at cause and effect of crime.

I think in some instances, the death penalty could serve as a deterrent. In premeditated cases, the thought of receiving the death penalty might enter their conscience. Also, if there is a prisoner who is serving a life sentence, what other punishment is there to deter him from killing another inmate or a guard other than lethal injection?

In other cases, I don’t think it serves any preventive purpose at all. If a murder is done in the “heat of the moment,” as the saying goes, then obviously the person is not thinking rationally and therefore is not considering the consequences of their actions. Or if the person is too young to fully understand the gravity of their actions, then they cannot fully accept the severity of the punishment either.

I honestly find myself able to argue for both sides, without being compelled by either. I think that the death penalty would be much more effective as a deterrent to crime if it were done more constantly and quickly. Right now, chances are one won’t get the death penalty and if it is sentenced then it can be appealed, which can take years and years. And even if that fails, the person will probably die of natural causes or another inmate before they are ever actually executed. No punishment can be an effective deterrent if people don’t believe it will be followed through on.

I believe in closure and retribution for the victims and their families because there is no “getting off” or “appeal” for them. The pain and suffering they feel is complete and total and will definitely be with them forever. The person, who chose to murder, ultimately knew the possible consequence of that choice, whether they thought about it at that moment or not, does not change the law.

On the other hand, if murder is wrong, it should be wrong. State sanctioned murder is almost an oxymoron, it is totally hypocritically and contradictory to the very law they are claiming to enforce.

The other big problem I have is that unless there is an absolute way to make sure an innocent person is never killed, then I don’t think it is worth the risk. In cases with DNA and such its easier, but now that the laws are changing, allowing sexual offenders and repeat offenders to be allowed that sentence, I worry that innocent people could be killed. And one innocent person is too many.

Children are a very grey area. I believe that if they are tried in adult court then they become subject to adult law. But generally speaking, I don’t think children’s brains, hormones, emotional control have developed to the point that they can fully understand the finality of that decision. I also think children have a much better chance to benefit from rehabilitation than adults do.

Ultimately, like I stated earlier, I am not sure I can defend nor condemn this institution. It is complex and so subjective, that I don’t know that there is a clear cut answer. I also find it difficult because every case has its own extenuating circumstances, making equitable execution of the law, difficult.


Dubin, B. (2010). The worth of life and the limits of law.. Russian Social Science Review, 51(3), 69-88.

Schaefer, Richard T.. Sociology: A Brief Introduction. 8 ed. New York City: McGraw-Hill Humanities/Social Sciences/Languages, 2008. Print.

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