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The Purpose of Criminal Punishment

Capital punishment refers to putting to death of an individual by the state to punish him or her for a crime. Throughout history, capital punishment has been used in societies to punish capital crimes such as treason. But the question is whether capital punishment prevents or deters crimes. The deterrence value of capital punishment has been an issue that continues to incite heated debate among those for and against the punishment. Numerous studies conducted to determine the deterrence effect of capital punishment have revealed that the punishment is not significant in deterring crime; in fact, it has the opposite effect. For instance, a study done in 2008 revealed that states that employ capital punishment had an average murder rate of 5.2 for every 100,000 persons, while the murder rate for those states without capital punishment law was 3.3 for every 100,000 people, implying that capital punishment does not deter murder and other crimes. In addition, instead of deterring crimes, capital punishment has been found to have a brutalizing effect on the society. Through killings, capital punishment devalues the life of human beings and creates an impression to the society that it is proper to kill under certain situations. As a result, this has increased violence and crime rates in the society because people no longer view life as sacred.

In addition, in order to cause a deterring effect, a penalty must be administered consistently and swiftly to enable probable criminals to clearly see the cause-and-effect relationship linking the punishment and the crime. However, capital punishment does not fulfill the stated conditions which makes it ineffective in deterring crimes. This is because only few first-degree killers are sentenced to death, and still, a relatively smaller number is executed. This makes the punishment ineffective in deterring future crimes. The paper concludes recommending states practicing capital punishment to switch to other human forms of punishments because the act is inhuman, and there is no proven evidence that it actually deters crimes.

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Capital punishment, also known as the death sentence, refers to putting to death an individual by the state to punish him or her for a crime (Espejo, 2002). Throughout history, capital punishment has been used in societies to contain political rebels and punish capital crimes. Currently, capital punishment is reserved to punish treason, intentional murder, and espionage. In certain states, adultery, rape, sodomy, and even apostasy also attract death penalty. In China, for example, severe corruption cases and human trafficking are punished via death penalty (Espejo, 2002). The question is whether capital punishment prevents or deters crimes. Do prospective assassins take into consideration the possibility that they might face capital punishment prior to murdering someone? My answer is definitely no. Though capital punishment has been used for a long time as a means of deterring crime, its deterrence value is an issue that continues to incite heated debate among those who support and those who are against the punishment (Espejo, 2002). This paper presents my argument against capital punishment as a means of deterring crimes, in addition to the ethical issues involved.

According to Espejo (2002), capital punishment as a means of deterring crime is based on the notion that by executing murderers, other prospect criminals are threatened by the punishment that prevents them from committing more crimes; this is referred to as general deterrence. There is also the specific deterrence in which the convicted criminal is murdered to prevent him or her from carrying out further crimes. Both the general and the specific deterrence have incited heated debate due to the conflicting evidence from numerous research studies that have been conducted on the issue (Espejo, 2002). Proponents of capital punishment argue that since murder cases are serious crimes against humanity, it is therefore justifiable to employ death penalty to punish murderers to prevent them and other potential murderers from committing future crimes. Their argument is based on the fact that death is what feared the most by people making capital punishment effective in deterring further crimes due to the fear of being killed. However, according to Gale Group (2002), the majority of murders are carried out impulsively either during moments of passion or by people under the influence of drugs. Potential murderers are driven by the passion to kill not considering the consequences of their actions, and under such circumstances, the threat of punishment does not prevent them from committing the crimes. This opinion is reiterated in the remarks of Jim Mattox, the former Attorney General of Texas, who said that most executions which have taken place in Texas are premeditated and are not deterred even by the knowledge of the existence of capital punishment (Gale Group, 2002). In addition, if a serious crime such as murder should be punished by a severe punishment, then long-term incarceration is brutal enough to deter criminals from committing similar crimes in the future instead of killing them.

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While capital punishment has been employed to prevent future murders, a series of studies by criminologists have proven that the punishment has an opposite effect i.e. instead of deterring crime, it has led to increased murder rates, what is called the brutalizing effect (Gale Group, 2002). Through killings, capital punishment devalues the life of human beings and creates an impression to the society that it is proper to kill under certain situations. Consequently, this has increased violence in the society because people no longer view life as sacred (Gale Group, 2002). As a result, the rates of murderers have increased due to the introduction of the punishment. For instance, homicide studies done by researchers Glenn Pierce and William Bowers in New York between 1907 and 1963 found out that there was a slight increase in the rates of murder after a death penalty (Keyzer, 2007). As a result, they concluded that capital punishments brutalize the society’s sensibilities hindering prospective murderers. Another study done in 2008 revealed that states that employ capital punishment had an average murder rate of 5.2 for every 100,000 persons, while the murder rate for those states without capital punishment law was 3.3 for every 100,000 people (Keyzer, 2007). This is an implication that capital punishment does not deter murder and other crimes. For instance, the United States which practices capital punishment has a higher rate of executions compared to other countries such as Canada that do not have death penalty.

In addition, in order to cause a deterring effect, a penalty must be administered consistently and swiftly to enable probable criminals to clearly see the cause-and-effect relationship linking the punishment and the crime (Schonebaum, 1998). However, capital punishment does not fulfill the stated conditions making it ineffective in deterring crimes. This is because only few first-degree killers are sentenced to death, and still, a relatively smaller number is executed. It is important to take note of the fact that there has been an increase in the number of death sentences to nearly 250 annually since the 1980s (Schonebaum, 1998). However, this number constitutes only 2% of the homicide cases reported to the police i.e. one execution in every fifty murder cases. Due to the few numbers and the low frequency of executions, capital punishment does not create any deterring effect for future crimes.

While capital punishment is intended to deter further crimes, the act of killing is morally wrong (Schonebaum, 1998). Human life is sacred and only God has the right to take it away, therefore, the punishment is very barbaric and inhuman. There are other alternative severe punishment forms such as long-time imprisonment that can effectively punish serious crimes, thus capital punishment is unjustifiable and immoral.

In conclusion, no evidence has proven that capital punishment actually deters crimes (Schonebaum, 1998). Besides, human life is sacred and there is no justification for taking it away; even if it is punishment for the gravest crimes committed. It is high time that states that practice capital punishment realize its un-deterring effect so that they can switch to more human forms of punishments.