The Death Penalty: What do you know about it? What do I know about it? Similiar to abortion, medicinal marijuana, and drunk driving, the death penalty is a very emotional debate. With any emotional debate, the facts tend to be overlooked and misinterpreated. Worse still, some are simply taken out of context to serve the arguers purpose. In order to get a clear view of the issue, emotions and sides must be taken away. The purpose of the death penalty must be thoroughly examined. Is it fulfilling its purpose? Could it be fulfilled in some other way? Would we be safe without it? There are many questions that can be asked, and not all of them can be adequately answered, but lets us begin with the purpose of the death penalty. Purpose: The death penalty, otherewise known as capital punishment, what is it? Using death as a punishment for a crime. The death penalty, many say came from the old time cliches of "an eye for an eye." However, the death penalty has very little to do with the revenge aspect. The death penalty is used as a means of detering crime and stopping violent repeat offenders. Included within this purpose are two unstated premises. #1. The fear of death as a means of punishment will keep people from committing a crime. #2. People who are given the death penalty are violent repeat offenders. Let us look at one of these premise as a means of starting our discussion. Death As A Punishment Will Keep People From Committing a Crime: Does it deter? Let's look at some statistics. Twenty of the 50 States in the United States of America have and enforce the death penalty. Of these twenty, eighteen have the highest murder rates in the country (Freedman 48). Now, are they the highest because of an ineffective punishment? Or could it be that these are just violent states, and that they would be much more violent without the death penalty? Of the 15,000 persons convicted of homicide in Capital Punishement states only about 300 face the death penalty. (Kaplan 28) Could it be that these states are not imposing the Death penalty enough? What Is The Definition of Effective Punishment? Social Psychologists, those who study people's actions and feelings in response to society, say that there are three aspects involved in punishment. The certainty, promptness, and severity of the punishment. In other words the more certain you are that you will be promptly and severely punished for a crime, the less likely you are to repeat the crime. Of these the most important aspect is the promptness with which the punishment is carried out (Aronson 458). Is the Death Penalty Effective? Sadly, this country is not renowned for its promptness in carrying out punishments, especially those involving the death penalty. This is not a fault of the death penalty, but of the judicial systems very long series of appeals. Appeals are given to the convicts in order to make sure that every avenue of proving their innocence has failed, and that they are truly guilty. In fact, it does not work, it keeps the truly guilty from experiencing a prompt punishment, and still it is estimated that more than 1% of those executed are in fact innocent (Carter 20). However, there are reports in New York that Capital punishment cut violent crime by 23% after it was restored in 1995 (Pataki 52). Conversely there are reports that states which abolish the death penalty have little or no raise in violent crimes (Freedman 48). In the New York case, in the year in which the death penalty was reinstated there was a great deal of changes made in the criminal prosecution system. In the New York there is a definate correlation, but we cannot see whether the institution of death penalty is the cause. The Real Question, What is the Cost? Cost, in this society, and those around the world is a major factor in our decisions surrounding punishment. How do we balance our need to punish, with the costs involved in punishing criminals. Many people do not like the idea of spending billions of dollars to house convicts. Many people see convicts with a better standard of living than the children in this country. Yet, it costs even more to dispose of the covicts. "A 1982 New York study estimated the death penalty cost conservatively at three times that of life imprisonment," (Freedman 48). Executions cost about $3,200,000, while life imprisonment costs only about one- sixth of that (Freedman 48). Most of the costs involved in carrying out the death penalty are incurred through the trial process. Is there an effective way to cut costs within the judicial proceedings without jeopardizing a person’s rights? Is the Death Penalty a Humane Punishment? In 1972 the U.S. Supreme Court struck down death-penalty laws on the grounds that it was cruel and unusual punishment. Four years later, the Court reversed its decisions, deciding that it was not an "inherently cruel or unusual punishment" (Moorehead 38). Normally the death penalty is carried out in one of five ways: lethal injection, electric chair, gas chamber, hanging, or firing squad. In this politically correct age, most of these have been discarded in favor of the lethal injection. These are the facts regarding the usual steps involved in a lethal injection. "1. The convict is led into the room by corrections officers, who strap the prisoner down, arms stretched in a cross. 2. An attendant inserts the IV tube into the convict's arm or, if a vein cannot be found, elsewhere. 3. Behind this window attendants, usually corrections officers, release the drugs. 4. The IV tube comes through a small window carrying anesthetic and the potassium chloride that stops the heart" (Kaplan 28). We put animals to sleep in this way very often, and it is in fact considered a humane way of dealing with the over-population of animals. Of course there is not an over-population with humans. Many critics of Capital Punishment believe that there is an innane, irrevocable right to life which every human possesses. Regardless of the way that death is carried out they will disagree with the humanity of it. What did I learn? While researching this subject I found a great deal of emotional material. It was difficult to wade through the heartraking pleas to find the facts about the subject. Not to mention many puffed up claims with little or no evidence to back the up. Here New York Governor Pataki gives his view of the decision to reinstate the death penalty. “SEPT. 1, 1995, marked the end of a long fight for justice in New York and the beginning of a new era in our state that promises safer communities, fewer victims of crime, and renewed personal freedom… For too long, coddling of criminals allowed unacceptable levels of violence to permeate the streets. They were not subject to swift and certain punishment and, as a result, violent criminal acts were not deterred” (Pataki 52). Unfortunately, the governor took very little time to explain exactly how the death penalty could follow through with these claims, instead he began to go case by case through heinous crimes that had been committed througout the last fifteen years. On the flip side of the debate, many of those against the death penalty simply use the assumption that all life should be valued, overlooking the lives that the criminals took. What do I believe Now? Unfortunately, the opinion that I have held for many years has not changed. I wonder if I subconciously biased my research, maybe if I had no view on the subject when I began, I would have a different idea now. Capital punishment as with many emotional debates is hard to ignore. Each person has a set idea in their mind already. However, I feel confident that I asked myself questions that would benefit both sides, and in doing so I hope that I have made the right decision. My decision was based on five facts. #1. The states with the highest violence rate have the death penalty. #2. States which abolish the death penalty have little or no increase in violent crimes. #3. Capital Punishment is six times as expensive as housing a criminal for life. #4. Our judicial system does not have the swiftness needed to make the punishment effective. #5. There is not a high enough accuracy rating for me to feel comfortable putting someone to death. Simply put, I think that the death penalty is ineffective to its purpose, inaccurate, and expensive to our government. The money spent in trying these cases could be better spent on our children and making sure that they never feel as if they have to enact violence on someone else in order to solve a problem. Work Cited: Aronson, Elliot; Robin M. Akert; Timothy D. Wilson. Social Psychology, Second Edition. New York 1997 Carter, Terry. “Numbers tell the story: timing was right for report on death row reprieves.” Newsweek, 6/16/97, p. 24+. Freedman, Eric M. “The case against the death penalty” USA Today March 97 p. 52+. Kaplan, David A.. “Life and Death Decisions” U.S. News World & Report, 2/02/98, p.4+. Moorehead, Caroling. “Tinkering with Death (changes in captial punishment and death” Index on Censorship. Mar-Apr 1995. Pataki, George E. “Death penalty is a deterrent” World Press Review. July 1995 p. 38+.