(After posting a blog yesterday arguing against the death penalty, I realized that the forums would be a much easier venue for a debate to take place.  Here is a link to the original blog post and comments.)

The death penalty is a brutal hangover from primitive legal systems and has no place in modern society. The United States stands alone among the world’s democracies in its use of capital punishment. This form of punishment has no place in a nation founded upon reason, justice, and liberty. Reason dictates that the death penalty can only further incite violence in this culture as legal authority condones retributive killing. Justice sees nothing valuable in a punishment that clearly discriminates against the impoverished lower classes of society. Liberty finds its greatest violation in a government that is allowed to kill its citizens.


Beyond the intrinsically noxious nature of capital punishment, arguments for the measure are completely undemonstrated. The biggest argument in support of capital punishment, deterrence, lacks any supporting evidence. In fact, the evidence seems to suggest that capital punishment actually encourages violence by incorporating state-sanctioned murder into society. Furthermore, most murders are crimes of passion, drunkenness, or both. The argument for deterrence rests solely upon the criminal’s capacity for sound reasoning to prevent a killing. Both inebriation and extreme emotion override the mind’s ability to logically examine a situation.


An even worse defense of capital punishment is the purported necessity of retribution. This puerile argument panders to the primitive mind and raw emotion. What place does this vulgar appeal have in a society based on rational empathy and social advancement? “An eye for an eye” is a Bronze Age intellectual concept that deserves to be left in the past along with slavery, infanticide, and numerous other social institutions which we no longer accept.


Tags: capital, crime, death, judicial, legal, penalty, punishment, system

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Maybe I was ambiguous in my phrasing of middle-class amenities. Specifically, I was referring to the free healthcare and college education that is available to many inmates. However, I think that the solution would be to have healthcare and college educations universally available to all citizens. I did not want to suggest that we should retract educational opportunities from inmates because education is probably the single greatest factor in changing someone's life for the better.

You raise good points about the persistent socioeconomic disparity, and how much a child's early environment really can leave the child at a significant disadvantage for functioning successfully in society. Although I myself am at least a full generation removed from abject poverty, my mother's parents both came from incredibly impoverished backgrounds. While my mother never had a chance to attend college in her youth, her siblings did and successfully broke out of the repetitive poverty cycle. (My mother has since returned to college in her late 40s, something for which I am immeasurably proud of her.) However, members of the extended family (second and third cousins) still remain firmly rooted in a trailer park, with male members cycling in and out of prisons.

Anyways, my point of that unnecessary autobiographical ramble was that I remember my mother and aunts observing many of the same things you mentioned in their childhood experiences with their extended family. Specifically, the complete lack of coherent conversation in daily life really does impede a child's developing sense of logic and social interaction. Also, the constant presence of a blaring television only adds to the noise and chaos. Another problem is the cyclic pattern of abuse--physical, emotional, and sexual--that can severely impede a child's functioning in society before they even begin kindergarten. Children of severe poverty are basically screwed before they even have a chance to begin their elementary public education.

This is why I would never suggest that education programs be removed from prison rehabilitation. However, I still cannot help but be frustrated as I watch my own student loan debt climb higher and higher as I try to work my way through school. If anything, I just wish that post-secondary education was more universally accessible; perhaps then people could get the benefit of education before they resort to criminal activity.
I have also wondered if there is a cultural explanation for the pro-capital punishment attitude that seems to differentiate the US from most other industrialized nations. I agree that the increased religiosity in America is most likely a factor, but then I have to wonder what leads to the increased religiosity in America over Europe. The Atlantic Ocean seems to act as some cultural dividing line that I have never understood. I suspect that the divide stems from a drive to forge a unique American cultural identity, an effort which has persisted since colonial times.

Shine (the Red Queen?)

Yes, I have adopted Helena Bonham Carter as The Red Queen from Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland! It opens in three days, not that I'm counting or anything. ;) Ironically, The Red Queen was quite in favor of capital punishment; "Off with their heads!" was her favorite phrase, lol.
OK, I though that it was a China doll, but now I recognize her. I want to see that movie, too! And I have all but given up on movies!
And I have all but given up on movies!

As long as I know that Tim Burton and/or Johnny Depp is involved, I'm there on opening night! :D
If you all want to bitch about how much it costs to imprison convicts, think why do we imprison non-violent offenders for such long periods of their lives? Be pretty cheap to imprison the killer and rapist if we did't jail children and drug users.

Such a good point, Neal. Surely, punitive costs in this country are out of hand, but I curdle at the suggestion that executions should be the solution. And if we are going to use execution, why not extend it beyond murder? After all, if saving money is the ultimate rationale behind capital punishment, why not apply it for all extended jail sentences regardless of the crime committed?

Similarly to what Doone said earlier, legalize marijuana and there will be plenty of prison and budget space would be available to house convicted murderers.
You are absolutely wrong. It costs a heck of a lot more to keep a prisoner for life than it does to kill them, and this has always been the case. Life imprisonment has never been cheap and is even more costly these days.

Do you have data for this? I'm not being a jackass, I genuinely want to know. I found some studies showing that execution is more costly than life imprisonment (here, here, and here). However, I did also read that one big detraction from the comparison is that lifetime inmates are allowed the exact same appeals process as death row inmates, thereby negating the cost of that of litigation from any cost comparison. I do not know if this true; I thought that death row inmates had a lengthier appeals process. Also, it seems that cost comparisons are notoriously difficult as counties do not separate funds used specifically for capital punishment crimes from those used for all other judicial costs. This last part really troubles me; although I really do not think that financial arguments are the primary concern, I still think that we should be able to see the exact price tag for both options.

That's because you're lumping these types of killings together. I assume you're also against euthanasia and hunting.

Capital punishment is essentially the state deciding that the individual does not deserve to live. Euthanasia is entirely different in that it is generally an act of mercy to alleviate an individual's suffering. I find murder to align much closer to the former. As for hunting, I have absolutely no problems with killing animals for consumption; we are physiologically omnivores, and hunting is only an enactment of our place in the food chain. I hesitate to really include hunting here, as I think that the death penalty debate specifically pertains to killing within the same species and not for consumption. (Well, at least hopefully not for consumption; Kuru does not sound pleasant.)
That was my argument. We can't just lump all types of killing into one category and say any and all killing is wrong. Not when some of us support some types of killing and not others.

My apologies, I misunderstood and inadvertently argued your point. I agree that all killing is not the same and should not be lumped together. But I find enough similarities between murder and execution that the two closely align in my mind.

I think that the cost of death row becomes so high because the prisoners are all in solitary units, versus the general population who are able to use communal facilities. I honestly do not know the specifics of it, or if death row inmates would even be viable to live in the general population if they were under a life sentence instead, but that is my best guess.

The cost issue is really just another example of how broken the entire system is, regardless of which method actually has the lower pricetag. I am not trying to negate it either way, but I think the ultimate issue is that prison costs need to be reduced period; I just do not think that executions are the way to solve this.
Anti Christian Lucifer’s Union

This one warms my heart.
I'll repost too:

Keeping prisoners is expensive, the best way to combat the costs is to find ways to stop people committing crimes. A better parole system, better education for children, a society that's kinder to those that are at the bottom so the poor are less tempted by crime (maybe a national health service?). Removing firearms to force people to think a bit more before they are able to kill or injure someone. Perhaps prison labour also contributes to the problem, if prisoners see the system as exploiting them then then they will likely have less respect for the system.

The US has a very, very high prison population, this is the main source of the costs. I've read that 25% of the world's prison population is in the US (the US makes up around 5% of the world's population). Around 0.75% of the US population is in prison, higher than any other country. Most European countries have around 0.10%.

To suggest the best way to cut the costs of an inefficient penal system is to execute those in prison who are most violent is barbaric! It is killing people out of convenience. Many handicapped and elderly people as well as orphans cost a lot to keep. It also distracts attention away from the true problem: Why do so many US citizens turn to crime?

As a form of revenge for the victims I think it encourages less respect for human life. It is allowing someone to enjoy another person's suffering and death. The penalty is a form of psychological torture, those going to be executed know they are being kept alive for the sole purpose of being killed later, I can't see the justice in forcing that upon someone when it's unnecessary.

In Europe the death penalty is prohibited under the ECHR (European Convention of Human Rights) where everyone is considered to have the "right to life".

I have written far too much! An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.
Why do so many US citizens turn to crime?

This really is the underlying problem. The death penalty certainly does not deter violent crime, but what will? I agree that this is the real question which needs to be addressed.

I have written far too much!

Impossible, one can never write too much! :D
I've never liked the argument that Capital Punishment is a deterrant. If it were supposed to be that, then we should be executing criminals in town squares in front of the community or society at large. Like we used to do, back when it didn't deter crime.

I am not totally against it, though. I just think that the burden of proof should be at a standard that would all but eliminate the death penalty. To think that, based on eyewitness testimony (most unreliable) or DNA evidence (much less reliable than you would think), that somone could be convicted and legally put to death, is quite troublesome.
Even worse for the supposed deterrent effect is a complete lack of supporting evidence. If captial punishment is really a significant deterrent to murder, it would seem like the murder rates in states with the death penalty should be much lower than in those without. Although there are cumbersome piles of data indicating that violent crime rates are higher in death penalty states, some argue that other variables can account for this disparity in crime rate. Still, even when other variables are accounted for, there is still no correlation between a decrease in violent crime and usage of capital punishment. (That paper also has a nice discussion of "the 'brutalization hypothesis,' which suggests that capital punishment can encourage homicide by seeming to legitimize killing of enemies.")

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