Death is not Productive!

Death is not Productive!

One of the most important principals in political science is the state’s monopoly on legitimate use of violence. State actions and policies use the deployment or the implied threat of force as an organic feature of state power. This preserves the existing status quo and encourages certain behavioral patterns while preventing or punishing others. In certain cases in the US, the state uses the most extreme form of violence: the death penalty. There is a large controversy over capital punishment and whether it is successful in terms of deterrence, morality, and finance. As I see it, jury misunderstanding and erroneous instruction cast considerable doubt on the institutional, procedural, and economic efficacy of capital punishment.

Today, the US remains the only Western nation that maintains a federally sanctioned death penalty. It is one of five countries (including China, Iran, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia) that carry out 88% of all known executions worldwide. The rest of the world continues to move toward abolition of the death penalty; over the past three decades, three countries a year have eradicated use of the death penalty in all circumstances.

We must question the legitimacy of American states to exercise punishment through the death penalty. Ben Franklin emphasized the fact that “he who would trade liberty for some temporary security deserves neither liberty nor security.”  The fine line between the state’s responsibility to guarantee the wellbeing of its people and its power to monopolize violence is often violated and deprives citizens of their liberty. The death penalty system in the US is often applied in an unfair and unjust manner. It is largely dependent on economic standing, the skill of attorneys, and the racial background of the defendant.


The death penalty is executed in an arbitrary and discriminatory fashion, but the arguments against it do not end there. Debates over capital punishment have focused primarily on its moral and practical policy attributes. A more basic question is whether capital punishment is constitutionally permissible in this country.

The American Civil Liberties Union
advocates that the death penalty violates the constitutional ban against “cruel and unusual punishment and the guarantees of due process of law and of equal protection under the law,” as reflected in the Eighth Amendment. In other words, the death penalty is an undeniable infringement of civil liberties, and is inconsistent with the fundamental values of a system that presents itself as a liberal democracy.

The criminal justice system is built upon a few important principles, one of which is that it ensures citizens’ security by enforcing laws and regulations. According to the National Institute of Justice, deterrence is the principal under which “criminal laws are passed with well-defined punishments to discourage individual criminal defendants from becoming repeat offenders and to discourage others in society from engaging in similar criminal activity.” It is a key concept in the judicial system. However, the level of deterrence depends not only on a punishment's severity, but also on its certainty and frequency. The argument most often cited in support of capital punishment is that the threat of execution influences criminal behavior more effectively than imprisonment. George W. Bush stated in a 2000 presidential debate, “I think the reason to support the death penalty is because it saves other people’s lives….it’s the only reason to be for it.” 

As reasonable as the above claim may seem, in reality, the death penalty fails as a deterrent method. The National Research Council states that the claim that capital punishment affects murder rates is "fundamentally flawed" because it does not consider the effects of non-capital punishment and uses "incomplete or implausible models.” Additional studies suggest that the death penalty may cause opposite results by actually increasing murder rates. In light of this evidence, is it wise to spend millions on a process with no demonstrated value that creates a risk of executing innocent people when other proven crime-fighting measures exist?

It is far from a national trend, but some legislators have begun to express second thoughts about the high financial cost of death row. Using conservative rough projections, California’s Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice estimated in July 2008 that the annual costs of the existing death penalty system ($137 million per year), the costs of the existing system after an implementation of reforms concerning its methods ($232.7 million per year), and the costs of a system which would impose a maximum penalty of lifetime imprisonment instead of the death penalty ($11.5 million) are significantly different. 

It is interesting to see that the greatest costs associated with the death penalty occur prior to and during the trial procedure, and are not influenced by the post-conviction methods. Even if all post-conviction procedures were abolished, the death penalty would still be more expensive than alternative sentences. Resources spent on death row could be diverted to improving the living conditions of prison inmates, and to supporting public defenders and legal service agencies. Lawmakers and law enforcement officials who see the death penalty as a pragmatic issue have declared capital punishment a low priority, promoting bills to abolish it.

The concept of violence is highly linked to the state’s policymaking power. By utilizing the death penalty, nations like the US manifest their “legitimate right” to monopolize the use of force against the citizens. This method is not only unconstitutional and barbaric, but it is also proven to be ineffective in decreasing criminal activity. Even in economic terms, the death penalty is injurious for the state. Thus, it must be abolished.

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