Death Row

When it comes to the topic of the death penalty, most of us readily agree that it is a controversial conflict. Where this agreement usually ends, however, is the question of whether deterrence has anything to do with the murder rates dropping when the death row in play. Whereas some are convinced that deterrence plays a big role on how criminals commit crimes, others maintain that criminals don’t plan out what crimes they are going to commit due to whether they will qualify for the death penalty. Many say that deterrence has no effect to criminals whether the death penalty is existent or not. The people who agree with this side of the conflict believe that the death penalty is not needed when felons can be sentenced life in prison. Using the death penalty to scare criminals has no effect because they know they are committing a crime that will affect the rest of their lives. Criminals do not think about the effect of their actions, they just do as they please.

Furthermore, as I suggested earlier, defenders of the death penalty can not have it both ways. Their assertion that deterrence plays no part in the death penalty is contradicted by their claim that punishment is a consequence of a crime and should be based on the wrong doing of a person’s actions. Law enforcement expects criminals to respond to punishment; execution is the most severe punishment to exist. Having the death penalty makes criminals fear arrest, prosecution, and punishment. Felons do not take life in prison as serious as the death penalty. When it comes to life in prison, there are ways to be released whether it is probation or their sentenced gets cut down a couple years. To be on early release, criminals will follow all the rules in jail. If they do get released early, most of the time they end up committing crimes again and are sent back to prison. Whereas, the death penalty there is no turning back and no way of getting out of it. The death penalty is taken very serious and that is why there are specific laws the court system has to follow in order to keep it legal. Although some people believe deterrence does not influence a criminal’s actions for the reason that felons do not plan crimes based off their punishments, the death penalty is very effective at putting fear into criminals minds causing a drop in murder rates while the law is legal.

Although the death penalty may seem trivial, it is in fact crucial in the terms of today’s concern over having the law be legal as a way to frighten criminals. Studies show that the use of the death penalty is very effective. As Michael Summers explains, “In the early 1980s, the return of the death penalty was associated with a drop in the number of murders.” These findings have important consequences for the broader domain of murder rates dropping because crimes such as murder falls under the death penalty category. Summers explains, an examination within a 26 year time period shows having the death penalty caused 74 fewer murders. H. Naci Mocan himself writes, “Each additional execution decreases homicides by about five, and each additional commutation increases homicides by the same amount, while one additional removal from death row generates one additional homicide.” Mocan’s point is showing that it is like a chain reaction. When death row is legalized death rates from murders decrease and when the death penalty is illegal homicide rates increase. As a result, the deterrence creates a cause and effect reaction when it comes to the death penalty.

Yet some readers may challenge the view that deterrence effects the role of the death penalty. After all, many believe the death penalty has nothing to do with deterrence. Indeed, my own argument that deterrence makes a great impact on the death row seems to ignore that criminals do not think about the consequences while doing their actions. William C. Bailey contemplates things further when he writes “The evidence clearly suggests that the death penalty in our criminal justice system, at least for murder, will have to be justified on grounds other than its deterrence effectiveness.” Basically stating that deterrence should not be the only factor to consider while contemplating the death penalty. This leads people to question whether death row saves lives or not. As John J. Donahue answers that question stating, “the number of homicides that it can plausibly have caused or deterred cannot be reliably disentangled from the large year-to-year changes in the homicide rate caused by other factors.” Simply saying that the decline or increase in murder rates are not just from the death penalty alone but with other factors are involved.

By focusing on the death penalty, individuals who disagree that deterrence plays a part in the court system overlook the deeper problem of the increasing murder rates when the death penalty is nonexistent. Although I disagree with much that the opposing side says, I fully endorse his final conclusion that criminals can not justify their actions. Most of the time murders continue to murder people after their first victim. They know it is wrong but they do not care. When they end up in court most criminals do not have a reason as to why they committed that crime, it is simply because they felt like it. Thurgood Marshall argues that “[t]he data which now exists shows no correlation between the existence of capital punishment and lower rates of capital crime.” On the other hand, Lewis Franklin Powell goes on about “The penalty of death is likely to have a stronger effect as a deterrent to normal human beings than any other form of punishment, and there is some evidence (though no convincing statistical evidence) that this is in fact so.” While Marshall argues there is no data that shows the correlation of the death penalty and rates of crimes decreasing, Powell says otherwise. Powell talks about how there is evidence but not enough to convince the opposing side to agree with the death penalty. However, I agree that nobody should have their lives taken from them due to a mistake, I also agree that people have a choice and they know the difference from right and wrong; whether they want to take the risk of taking someone’s life knowing theirs can get taken from the also.

The upshot to all of this is that the death row is a very controversial topic debatable between people’s opinions on the law enforcement and whether deterrence is a main factor or if there is multiple factors involved. Although the death row may seem of concern to only a small group of the court system, it should in fact concern anyone who cares about murder’s lives when it comes to laws. Accordingly, deterrence is a way to scare criminals to stop murdering people or their lives will be taken. Consequently, felons have a mind of their own and do not think about the after effect.

[Photo, Prison Cells by miss_millions, licensed under CC BY 2.0]