Thursday, July 15, 2010

Capital Punishment Benefits Society

In the document code he created in 1760 BC, King Hammurabi of Babylon used the “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” philosophy as a central principle of punishment for all crimes. While often resulting in disfigurement or death penalty for the offenders, the Code of Hammurabi, as the document came to be known, ensured stability and domestic harmony within the ever-growing Babylonian Empire, bringing the ancient Mesopotamian civilization to its zenith.

However, such a legal tradition is coming under attack in the modern society, where there is a growing trend of perceiving the concept of capital punishment as immoral or even barbarian. Mounting evidence, on the other hand, suggests that capital punishment can significantly increase the welfare of the society as its increased implementation can bring about many economic and psychological benefits to the populace.

One of the most severe problems our country faces today is the ever-growing cost of law enforcement. A large portion of the increase comes from the increasing expenses required to feed, house, and rehabilitate the enormous prison population. According to Abel Martinez at the University of Texas, the average cost of supporting one prisoner costs $22000 while expansion of the prison system to alleviate overcrowding costs $54000 per bed. Significant amount of taxpayer money can be saved by using death penalty in situations where long prison sentences are given today.

At the same time, there is no guarantee that the prisoners who go through rehabilitation and reeducation programs in the prisons are completely benign and no longer poses danger to the society upon their release. In fact, many crimes in our society today are the acts of repeat offenders who commit same or similar crimes on new victims with each release from their prison sentences. Use of capital punishment can dramatically decrease or completely eliminate the economic damages incurred by such largely preventable repeat offenses if potentially dangerous repeat offenders can be identified and subjected to execution.

Other benefits of capital punishment cannot be put in monetary terms. Much positive psychological effect can be generated if capital punishment is used much more widely than it is today. Providing a stronger perceived sense of authority to the law enforcement agencies, the greater utilization of death penalty will undoubted inhibit potential criminals from committing violent and socially damaging crimes.

In the gang culture of today’s inner city America, committing atrocious crimes, most often in the form of gruesome murders, is considered actions required for group membership and a sign of “toughness.” Many other criminals, especially repeat offenders, violate the law because they have no place in society and incapacity to adjust to the normal life outside of their familiar prisons.

Fear of receiving death penalty will deter both groups from committing crimes, or at least decrease the intensity and magnitude of the crimes committed. And the fear of death penalty by criminals translates to the society and the general populace having less fear of becoming victims to violent crimes. In other words, the threat of death in prison can reduce the threat of death outside the prisons.

Of course, much reform is needed to correct the faults that exist in our legal code today. The use of capital punishment today is not proper and certainly not enough to unleash the full benefits as stated above. First, the concept of death row must be completely destroyed. Making criminals subject to capital punishment languish for decades, if not their entire lifetimes, in the death row before execution makes the whole purpose of death penalty disappear while spending taxpayer money nonetheless. The enforcement of capital punishment should be swift and timely, preferably immediately after it is sentenced in court and not appealed.

Using the same logic, it should be argued that any prison sentence beyond 25 years is absolutely pointless. After all, even if the prisoner is jailed as a young man, by the time he is released, he is too old to potentially make enough positive contributions to society to offset the cost of living expenses and reeducation in prison. Thus, the reforms should either reduce his sentence and transform some of the prison sentences as other forms of punishment, such as community service or hard manual labor, or subject him directly to the death penalty if the crime is too severe for such a compromise.

Secondly, there should be a mechanism to increase punishment for repeated offense. An easy method is to establish a system in which the sentence of the criminal is increased with each additional time he commits the same or similar crime and is imprisoned. Eventually, after multiple offenses, he should be subjected to execution as the agencies determine that he has no hope for successful rehabilitation and return to normal life.

The greater use of capital punishment will save much taxpayer money. The saved money should be reinvested in such projects as research and development for more humane, painless, and quick methods for capital punishment and, more importantly, education and job training for potentially dangerous segments of the society. Only success in real life can truly decrease criminal tendencies within people and it is our hope that one day, there is no longer any violent crimes to necessitate the existence of capital punishment.


  1. Sorry, just came across this now. As somebody who is very much interested in prison reform issues, partly due to my tutoring and teaching experience in prisons in California and Cameroon, let me give my two cents:

    1) The overarching principle behind advocates of eliminating the death penalty is a purely ethical one. They believe, and I agree, that the State has no moral right to take the life of a convicted criminal, no matter the crime. This is based on a number of philosophical traditions, including Aristotelian/Classical, Kantian, as well as some Eastern mores. In our eyes, this is not about (economical) utilitarianism at all.

    2) You assert "there is no guarantee that the prisoners who go through rehabilitation and reeducation programs in the prisons are completely benign and no longer poses danger to the society upon their release." Doing so assumes that such programs are in place. Let me tell you that in California as well as the majority of developing countries, they aren't. In the Victorian age, incarceration used to serve a primarily rehabilitating function. Yes, forcing prisoners to do hard manual labor for 12+ hours a day coupled with incessant religious instruction probably wasn't the best form of rehabilitation, but you can see that the intention was there. Nowadays, especially since the 1980s when prisoner issues became politicized and incarceration began to be viewed in a solely punitive fashion, there isn't much rehabilitation and reeducation involved anymore, at least not for the majority of prisoners. This largely explains why recidivism rates are often through the roof.

    3) Your argument also assumes that the justice system in x jurisdiction is fair, balanced, and transparent. Too often in the world, including here in the States, it isn't. Just look at the different sentencing guidelines for crack cocaine versus pure coke - the former is a largely "black" drug while the latter caters more to white users. And up until recently (and still in some areas), mandatory minimum sentences were far harsher for crack than for pure cocaine. This shows that our justice system in many parts of the US is inherently, if not intentionally, racist. Further evidence can be found in rates of conviction for the same crime, broken down by race, as well as the increasing rate of DNA evidence in the last two decades exonerating scores of wrongly-convicted persons.

    So, no, in light of all this I would rather err on the "safe" side (though admittedly there are many prisons on long sentences or on death row who would rather just end it with capital punishment) and abolish the death sentence, even from a mainly non-ethical perspective.

  2. this post is from literally like three years ago, so I dont particularly remember my logic behind it, and under what motivation I wrote it at that time.

    But as far as the death penalty is concerned, there is also the argument that it is a deterrent for those who may rethink about their actions when thinking about committing certain crimes. As much as a life sentence sounds bad enough, it really isnt, especially these days when we see:

    (1) people who still act as commanders for their underlings even behind bars (drug trafficking bosses and gang leaders mostly responsible for this) and (2) increasing instability in some countries that greatly increase the possibility of those serving life sentences to actually get out through (a) breaking out during times of instability or (b) getting special pardons from new incoming leaders after regime changes.

    I do see the point about ethics and essentially the lack of fairness in the judgment of death penalties (which is largely true even today) but from a practical standpoint of delivering justice, it may still very much be more effective than a life sentence, especially in certain places where stability is luxury and every effort is needed to ensure maximizing of it.

  3. Regarding the Death Penalty, you cant just "rather end it" as if you were putting down an animal, how is that ethical justice? people must be out of their minds to think this is a solution. So unless y'all follow Sharia Law then that is more suited to your belief of an eye for an eye, An eye for an eye only makes the whole world go blind. You will find the majority of prisoners are there for petty crimes, the prisons are not overflowing with criminals, its neglect on part of the justice system to process these prisoners according to the severity of the crime.

  4. yeah, but thats thing, there are a lot of people out there who just want to completely abolish it, 100%. That is what I am trying to argue against.