Punishment and Death Penalty
Both punishment and death penalty are commonly used in the legal system as means of achieving justice. In the society, many people tend to believe that crime rate is on the increase because the government is not punishing the wrong doers. These ideas are deeply founded on the retribution theory that demands people to receive what they deserve. Even though the proponents of punishment and death penalty present ideas and reasons that are worth considering, the two practices should not be accepted because they are not effective in achieving the primary goal of enlightenment and deterrence of future crimes. Furthermore, weaknesses in the legal system make it hard to provide an accurate measure of punishment as well as punish the true criminal not an innocent person. Alesina and Ferrara (2014) argued that it is not morally justified to inflict pain on human beings in form of punishment and death penalty when seeking to deter future crime.
In most countries across the world, people are increasingly embracing the policy of punishing criminals without investigating the dire consequences of such actions. The crime rate has significantly increased, and as indicated by most opinion polls, most people from the west are increasingly getting worried about the emerging criminal trends. For instance, Americans generally believe that crime is increasingly getting out of control majorly because the state is not effective in punishing the criminals (Alesina, & Ferrara, 2014).
Punishing the criminal might seem good but only in the face value. When investigated more and deeply, people will certainly realize that punishment assuredly harm those punished yet harming another person is morally wrong, especially if there is no compelling reason. Therefore, embracing tough punishment on the criminals certainly makes us irresponsible citizens. In most cases, people act out of fear when they hurriedly call for punishment of the supposed criminals.
Notably, some types of punishment offered by the state are neither appropriate nor morally justifiable. The deterrence theorists argue that the only way to deter future crime is to punish severely the offenders. However, the reality of the matter is that the more the criminal is punished the more he or she continues committing the crime. In essence, punishment help builds hard-core criminals in the society. On the other hand, retributive theory only emphasizes on the punishment of past crimes but not the future. In this perspective, it cannot be used in justification of punishment as a tool for deterring future crimes.
Still, for the sake of the individuals being punished or others, retributive theory can be used to justify the need for punishment in the essence that it emphasizes on the deterrence of future crimes. It is possible that punishment can help deter future crime but the primary aim of retribution is not to prevent people from committing crimes in the future but rather rehabilitate them. Furthermore, if the punishment is carried out correctly, there are chances of rehabilitating the individual, which is better than punishment (Vaughn, 2015).
The problem with punishing criminals comes when people have to decide the type and severity of the punishment to be used. Even when people agree on who should be punished for their crimes, deciding the type of punishment to be used becomes hectic because there is no accurate measure of punishment that can match the crime done. The difference in punishment is perceptive and if people decide on the type of punishment, for instance a 5-year jail for child molesters, both the criminal and other people might interpret the decision differently. In the real sense, the criminal might not get what he or she deserves in terms of the punishment given. The key to ordinary moral understanding is that people should get what they deserve but that is difficult to achieve with punishment for crimes done.
Critical evidence from many countries using punishment such as United States clearly shows that deterrence does not work, and to the worst, can be very counterproductive. Generally, punishment shows no ability to lower effectively crime and it suffers from incapacitation, which is, trying to get people of the street to lower crime. Although executing criminals or giving harsh punishments might seem appropriate, it is more inappropriate to give them less severe ones especially if it does not deter them from future crimes. In addition, as explained by Van and Conrad (2013), refraining from punishment is the most effective way of avoiding or lessening cruelty in our society and thus helps us achieve most advanced level of moral civilization.
Many people naturally accept the retributive idea that wrongdoers should be paid back for their evil deeds by severe punishment including death penalty. Even though this idea fit naturally into many people’s feelings, it is a primitive and unenlightened conduct. Punishment only fulfils the desire of revenge that should be resisted. From a Christian point of view, revenge is unacceptable and only God is allowed to do so. Jesus himself rejected the rule of “an eye for an eye”, which clearly shows that punishment for crime is not a good way to take (Van & Conrad, 2013).
Even though many people think that crime rate is on the rise because the government is not doing what it takes to punish the wrongdoers, the idea of punishment does not eliminate the evil thoughts from people’s minds. Secondly, punishment is an animalistic behaviour and a primitive form of inculcating virtues in an individual therefore people should seek a better alternative.
On Saturday December 2006, the former president of Iraq, Saddam Hussein was executed following the closing of a court case that passed death penalty for his crimes against humanity. Was it right for Iraqi Special Tribunal to pass death penalty on this case? Is death penalty always justified for such cases and where exactly do we draw the line? These questions come into consideration when discussing the justification, need, and application of death penalty in punishing wrongdoers.
In most countries, death penalty is used for murder-related cases and crimes against humanity. A criminal justice system that is based on pure retribution would advocate for death penalty on such case. However, this is ideal and not practical because the possibility of establishing a justice system that is purely based on retribution is almost nil because other factors such as rehabilitation always come into play, thereby making the use of death to be unjustified (Hans et al., 2015).
Furthermore, in case of murder, where death penalty is usually applied, other factors also come into play, which makes it unjustified and inappropriate means of attaining justice and being the best punishment for crimes committed. For instance, people may commit murder in different circumstances that are not planned; therefore, using death penalty is not a better punishment for the crime committed.
The proponents of death penalty might argue that some people may deserve to die depending on the type of crime committed not considering the fact that nothing gives us the right to take other people’s lives. The realization of this fact has enabled more than two-thirds of countries worldwide to abolish the practice of death penalty.
Regardless of their moral stand, people who advocate for death penalty do not consider the fact that no legal system is 100% perfect. In every legal system, there is always the possibility of executing an innocent person because of the inherent weakness of the system; the same applies to the case of imprisonment. In the case of Adolf Hitler, many may argue that the regime deserves death penalty because they killed so many innocent Jews; however, is killing the Adolf Hitler’s men a lesser evil?
Hans et al (2015) asserted that death penalty does not have a strong deterrent effect hence it cannot be used effectively to deter future crimes. After all, the person who could be helped to change has been executed for the crimes so there is no room for a second chance or correction of behavior. A miniscule possibility that a wrongdoer may be executed is more likely to deter future crime than death penalty.
Even though they agree that death penalty has little effect in reducing or deterring future crime, retributivists maintain that is the right thing to in case of heinous crimes. Another school of thought by those who follow retribution is that the severity of punishment should actually match the severity of the crime committed. This sounds good because people should be given what they deserve but the big problem is that people cannot all agree on the scale of measuring punishment. It is morally wrong to either over-punish or under-punish someone.
It is essential to consider that, in almost all cases, the society’s culture and sense of morality determine crimes worthy of death penalty, so there is no standard of measure across the world. The problem is that the moral sense of a society keeps on changing based on its cultural development. Therefore, a crime which is worthy of death penalty today may not be so a few years to come. Since, morality changes with time and death is final, death penalty is not justified. In addition, it is impossible to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the person to be executed committed the crime and this may lead to innocent people being killed for the crime they did not commit (Blecker, 2013).
Both arguments for and against the use of punishment and death penalty especially in making people accounted for their crime are interesting and worth consideration. Even though there are enough evidences to support the two, they lack deeper moral insight when matters of life, respect, and civilization are brought into consideration. Even though people should get what they deserve, punishments and death penalties are harsh mechanisms of achieving that and they water down our gains on civilization. Most importantly, the use of punishment and death penalty do not effectively achieve the goal of deterring future crime but rather develops hard-core criminals in the society. The legal system should seek for different means of deterring crimes other than punishment and death penalty. Inflicting suffering on the humanity in form of punishment and death penalty is not morally justified and instead is counterproductive in deterring future crimes. There is a need to have a forward-looking purpose of protecting the innocent and deterring future crimes (Franck, Nyman, & Schabas, 2003).
Alesina, A., & La Ferrara, E. (2014). A Test for Racial Bias in Capital Punishment. American Economic Review, 104(11).
Blecker, R. (2013). The death of punishment: Searching for justice among the worst of the worst. New York: Palgrave Macmillan
Franck, H. G., Nyman, K., Schabas, W. A.., (2003). The barbaric punishment: Abolishing the death penalty. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.
Hans, V. P., Blume, J. H., Eisenberg, T., Hritz, A. C., Johnson, S. L., Royer, C. E., & Wells, M. T. (2015). The Death Penalty: Should the Judge or the Jury Decide Who Dies?. Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, 12(1), 70-99.
Van den Haag, E., & Conrad, J. P. (2013). The death penalty: A debate. Springer Science & Business Media.
Vaughn, L. (2015). Doing ethics: Moral reasoning and contemporary issues. WW Norton & Company.