Should Life Imprisonment Replace The Death Penalty

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The American justice system is a complex and diverse part of American life. It has many sections and, some would say, many flaws. Nothing about this system is more controversial than capital punishment, more commonly known as the “death penalty”.The practice of executing criminals for extreme crimes has been around since the Dark Ages. Civilizations, countries, and whole nations of people use execution as a “reward, duly given to those who deserve it”. Furthermore, statistics show that the government is not handing the death penalty out like candy; less than 50 people were executed in 2012. More people are sentenced to life in prison or various lesser charges than are sentenced to death over multiple years combined. The biggest debate around it, however, is its morality in comparison to the United States Bill of Rights, more specifically the Eighth Amendment. The Eighth Amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishment but what is unusual? What is cruel? There is an old saying and that is, “Let the punishment fit the crime”.

The United States has a very clear list of crimes that are punishable by death and it is not white-collar crimes. These are crimes like murder, terrorism, and genocide. All crimes with lots of pain and victimization. But the death penalty is a very strong, well-proven deterrent against violent crime including murder, terrorism, rape, armed robbery, drug-related murders and robberies, and genocide. It is also a very respectful way to end the criminal’s life because there is no prolonged pain. Lastly, the death penalty eliminates mostly all sympathy for the criminal. When people sit in jail, they tend to look more pitiful than if the federal or state governments execute them swiftly. But when people commit crimes like Ted Bundy, they deserve no one’s pity. The death penalty is fair, humane, and serves justice the way it should be.

What is the most common fear of human beings? What is something over 20% of us share, fear-wise? The fear of death. Fear is a common reaction to things that are unknown, new, or uncertain to us. Hypothetically, if someone were to break into your house and threaten to rob and kill you, you would probably be feeling fear. And if this person was to point a gun at your head and say, “Don't MOVE”, you probably won’t start doing jumping jacks. The term “deterrent” is a word that describes a motivator of sorts; something that discourages a type of behavior. A study was done on the effect of deterrence, fear-wise, on the criminal’s brain. Fear is described as being a feeling but it is more than just that. It’s a perception, a way of looking at potential situations. Now, in the case of deterring criminals, we want them to fear the repercussions of potential behaviors. That is why the death penalty is effective. Not to mention, when a criminal is sentenced to death, most live the next ten years in absolute misery on what is called “death row”.Death row is usually a separate part of a prison where most live in isolation. The idea behind death row, other than the logical need for separation, is that the person being executed will begin to feel remorse for their actions. According to a study done by psychologists Eaton and Theur (2009), over 400 death row, inmates issued apologies to the victims and/or their families. To be specific in what these apologies contain, 23% contain admittance of guilt, 21% ask for forgiveness and 26% contain words of empathy towards those affected, specifically the families of the victims. What does this prove? This proves that remorse due to death row is psychologically proven. Furthermore, there is something called the “death row phenomenon”, dubbed by psychologists Harrison and Tamony, which refers to the extreme emotional distress felt by prisoners on death row. And the main feeling? Fear.

There are a lot of things that humans detest. Mondays, empty coffee pots, fear, a D+ on our report card. Fear is described by many psychologists as a motivator. Reflect on the previous word used to describe fear; deterrent. The difference between deterrents and motivators is the type of effects we are looking at. Deterrents are used to discourage bad behavior; motivators are used to encourage good behavior. So how is something with a negative connotation going to produce good results? Maybe good isn’t the right word to describe the results of fear being a motivator brings about. Perhaps “better than it would be” is a better phrase. Say a hypothetical robber goes up to a house that he/she wants to rob. He/she goes to open the door and notices a door alarm. The fear of setting off the door alarm (the consequence of his behavior) is going to STOP him in his tracks and prevent the robbery. If there is a powerful enough motivator, say, death (which is something 20% of us fear) prevention of big crimes such as armed robbery, rape, murder, gang violence, and terrorism is possible.

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“Off with her head!” Everyone knows the Queen of Hearts, Alice in Wonderland’s famous villain, sentencing some poor souls to departing with their heads Beheading, along with hanging, burning, and shooting, was a common type of execution back in medieval days. Now we live in modern days and so ethics have to be called into question. What are the most painless way and most humane ways to get someone to die? Some say that may be murder. But the truth is, execution today is being looked at as a kind and humane alternative to life imprisonment especially because the methods used to carry the executions out have evolved. Gone are the days of long- and short-drop hangings and burning people at the stake. All except three states have done away with the firing squad. Now, a three-drug lethal injection system is widely accepted as the most humane process and has been adopted in favor of the firing squad or the electric chair.

Most people don’t understand how it works. Lethal injection is a three-step process. In all cases, a strict sterilization process is followed. All tools and body parts involved in the execution are very thoroughly cleaned. A lot of people bring up the question of why, if the person is going to be executed, it even matters. The point of an execution is not to torture or treat the criminal inhumanely, as some may argue. The point of an execution is to serve justice and give him or her the punishment they deserve for their crime. Compared to the other methods, lethal injection is the least painful and fastest way of executing a criminal.

When the condemned criminal enters the execution chamber, they are joined not only by guards and police but also by a priest who then performs what is called the final rites. There is no judgment from the priest or the people in the execution chamber. They are there to release even the most vicious killers from the pain of body and mind. The priest then makes the sign of the cross over the condemned’s hands, mouth, eyes, and feet. This is showing religious forgiveness of sins which to a lot of people, is very important. Then the condemned is restrained to a gurney by hand, arm and waist restraints, provided so the criminal doesn’t squirm during the operation or try to make an escape attempt. There are three different chemicals, and drugs, used in lethal injection executions. The first one is called “sodium thiopental” and its role is an anesthetic. Traditionally, the insertion of fatal drugs into the body has been reported to cause a lot of physical pain. As stated above, the purpose of execution is not to torture the condemned. It’s to deliver a deserved, quick, painless death. So the anesthetic is inserted into the IV bags first and time is allowed for the drugs to seep into the blood. Secondly, another drug “vecuronium bromide” is added which adds to the anesthetic, this time causing paralysis resulting in blockage of signals between the muscles and nerves. The third and final drug is the deadly one. It is potassium chloride and it’s used to stop the heart. After the third injection, the person being executed has less than ten minutes left on earth.

“Prisoners are under huge stress mentally and physically… leading to depression”. Execution is an alternative method of punishment to life imprisonment and it is often considered more humane because it is not long and drawn out and when the person gets into the execution, they view death as a welcomed friend. First off, each person who is executed isn’t mercilessly put to death without a final chance to say goodbye and apologize. They are allowed several visitors for most of the day before the execution. While they are kept in a special chamber, they are still allowed to interact with spouses, parents, children, and sometimes even friends. Then they are given a final meal of their choice. They can have anything they want, and most go very extravagant. Throughout this whole time, a spiritual advisor of the person's choice is invited in to interact with the inmate. This is allowed because it brings the inmates a lot of comforts and even allows them to “ask God for forgiveness” if they so desire to and to pray and read the Bible with someone.

The crimes that are considered “capital offenses” are only ever punishable by death or life imprisonment. When one considers the humanity of capital punishment, one should also think about the humanity of life imprisonment. Claustrophobia, social anxiety disorder, depression. All of these things are found in mass numbers of prisoners. According to the US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, “...prisoners have high rates of psychiatric disorders and mental health...” The more a person sits in a cell, the worse and worse they feel. True, they do more than sitting. Prisons are actually like mini-cities. Inmates are working just about every aspect of it: in the kitchen, working as janitors, etc. However, the worst part about it is that you don’t have freedom. There are very few rights in prison because if one is in a prison, chances are they have lost their rights to privacy. For most of the general population of the world (excluding the estimated 30 million people that circulate through prisons) who have never had our freedoms restricted in this way, it is difficult to understand. But according to the consensus among researchers, it is a suffocating and dehumanizing feeling. A prisoner isn’t even known by their name, simply by their number or location in the prison. While it is also agreed upon that this system is used for efficiency and not for demoralization, they maintain this system. Prisoners are not even allowed to talk during certain periods.

When you have someone telling you what to do for the rest of your life, you tend to begin to feel like a trapped animal. The average age for someone getting sentenced to life in prison is 37.5 years of age and if they live to be in their nineties, that’s about forty years of imprisonment. And at about $38, 000 dollars a year, that’s an expensive way to lose your mental health. Execution is not only more effective, but it is also a lot less expensive. People argue that the Death Penalty violates the eighth amendment. There are several notable cases in which this subject has been brought up in front of the Supreme Court, considered one of the most unbiased and reliable sources of criminal justice in the world. According to the Supreme Court, the death penalty is not “...unconstitutional as it could serve the social purposes of retribution and deterrence.” Because it is such a serious thing, the Supreme Court also imposed three strict judgment factors as to who can be given the Death Penalty. In Coker vs Georgia, the Court rules that a “...penalty must be proportional to the crime…”. In this way, the US Justice system has ensured that the Death Penalty meets all regulations and is fair and standard across all fifty states, proving it does not violate the Eighth Amendment. After all, “...historically, the Eighth Amendment was understood to bar only those punishments that added ‘terror, pain or disgrace’ to an otherwise permissible capital sentence” says former US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Secondly, the Supreme Court also ruled in Ring vs Arizona that the death penalty must be decided in a separate hearing. And thirdly, and most importantly, some people would say, the manner of execution. The Supreme Court, while refusing to ban electrocution as a method of execution, has ruled that any manner of execution may not cause or allow unnecessary or unneeded pain. That’s not to say that sometimes things don’t go wrong, particularly with newer methods. But to this day, the death penalty has not been proven unconstitutional because it does not inflict pain, as people say it does. It merely does its job.

Humans hate punishment. That is something that we can all say, especially when we’re faced with detention or getting grounded, or even facing the potential of losing our jobs. But most countries’ codes of conduct demand repercussions for one’s bad behavior. People that are put on death row have not committed petty theft or breaking. Crimes punishable by the death penalty have caused unnecessary and even wanton destruction and pain to many people’s lives. They are crimes like mass murder (genocide) or terrorism. Society’s norms demand that we give justice where it is duly deserved. That means keeping the death penalty. The Justice system is not just looking out for the good of society but also for the good of the person condemned. It also works as a motivator for people to not commit the same crimes. “...other recent investigations using a variety of samples and statistical methods consistently demonstrate a strong link between executions and reduced murder short, capital punishment does save lives!”. If there are fewer people inclined to commit mass murders, one can generally state that this world is a better place for people to raise their children in. Standing by the death penalty is one way to make sure that this society stays safe, and that we do not allow people to get away with murder, violence, or terrorism.  

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