The death penalty must be abolished

January 13, 2021 — by Stephanie Sun

In 2020, for the first time in U.S. history, the federal government executed more people than did all 50 states combined. In December alone, two men, Brandon Bernard and Alfred Bourgeois, were executed within the span of 24 hours. 

Bernard’s case sparked a widespread clemency campaign, fueled by politicians and celebrities alike. Despite his execution on Dec. 10, the high-profile nature of the case underscored why this ultimate societal penalty is opposed by so many. 

For starters, the death penalty is the ultimate form of cruel and unusual punishment. A practice from the 18th century should not still be such a prominent part of today’s justice system, especially considering how significantly society has changed and evolved. 

Capital punishment is unflinchingly final and makes no room for the mistake inherent in any justice system and no consideration for rehabilitation.

No punishment this severe should depend solely on the unpredictability of human bias and emotion. Juries are meant to be completely impartial, but oftentimes jurors may be swayed by their implicit biases as well as uncertainty and pressure to convict. Prosecutors and witnesses are sometimes corrupt; defense attorneys are sometimes too busy to mount a proper defense or incompetent.

In the case of Bernard’s execution, five jurors came forward after new information was released and said they would not have voted in favor of his death sentence if they had previously known more details. 

Leaving the decision of whether someone lives or dies in the hands of a jury that may not have all the facts is wrong.

Historically, the death penalty has been applied unequally to across the races. Defendants who killed white people were more likely to be executed than those who killed black people, according to The New York Times. Another study from the Death Penalty Information Center found that since 1977, 308 Black defendants have been executed for murders involving at least one white person, as compared to 34 white defendants executed for murders involving Black people.

A death penalty sentence also often depends on the affluence of the perpetrators and their ability to obtain proper legal defense. 

Besides this, the death penalty does not even serve its main purpose, as it fails to deter people from crime and has been shown to be far more expensive than life in prison. Studies from the National Research Council conclude that states that abolished the death penalty have had significantly lower murder rates than those that continue executions.

Proponents of capital punishment often argue that abolishing the death penalty will not bring victims justice. But the concept of an eye for an eye is rooted firmly in vengeance, not justice. Taking someone else’s life will not undo what has already been done or stop a family’s grief. 

According to Psychology Today, studies show that only 2.5 percent of victim’s families achieved true closure from the death penalty while 20.1 percent said that the execution did not help them heal. 

The main intents of the death penalty are deterrence and closure, and neither of them have proven successful. There are many other more effective alternatives to capital punishment, such as long or lifetime prison sentences. 

In the U.S., the death penalty can be applied to federal drug cases in limited circumstances. This can be prevented by decriminalizing drugs and focusing instead on treatment options. 

Gun control has also statistically been shown to reduce homicide rates. A study published in the Journal of General International Medicine found that states with laws requiring universal background checks for gun sales resulted in homicide rates 15 percent lower than states without the same laws. 

In addition to these starting measures, there should also be focus on further movements to fix the inherent flaws of the justice system. 

The money spent on capital punishment and the inevitable appeals it comes with should be redirected to reform and rehabilitation, including mental health services for prisoners.  

According to a 2018 study conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. has one of the highest recidivism rates in the world, 64 percent, and accounts for over 20 percent of the world's incarcerated population. In comparison, Norway has one of the lowest recidivism and crime rates in the world, 20 percent, due to their progressive rehabilitative prison system

According to the National Institute of Justice, rehabilitation programs reduce recidivism if they include specific measures, such as education, drug treatment programs and vocational skills training. 

As support for the death penalty declines among Americans, with a record low of 55 percent in favor of capital punishment in 2020, it is even more important to implement these new reforms in our prison systems. Rehabilitative measures will reduce the amount of repeat offenders as well as future criminal justice and corrections costs. 

The death penalty continually proves itself to be an ineffective, inequitable punishment, and abolishing it on a federal level will allow true progress to be made in the criminal justice system. With the approaching presidential inauguration and subsequent changes in administration, the Biden Justice Department must attempt to implement new reforms to the criminal justice system. It is time to move away from past ideals and focus on justice instead of revenge. 

 

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