The Controversial Issue of Capital Punishment
Capital punishment is a declining institution as the twentieth century nears its end. At one time capital punishment was a common worldwide practice, but now it is only used for serious violation of laws in 100 of the world's 180 nations (Haines 3 ). It can be traced back to the earliest forms of civilization. The origins of the movement away from capital punishment are difficult to date precisely. The abolition movement can be heard as early as the religious sermons of the Quakers in the 1640's (Masur 4). In the seventeenth century, the Anglo-American world began to rely less on public executions and more in favor of private punishments. The possible decline in popularity of the capital punsihment system is directly related to the many controversial issues it entails such as: the questions of deterrence, morals and ethics, constitutionality, and economics.
The usual justification for capital punsihment is that it deters crime. It is by no means obvious whether capital punishment deters crime more than life imprisonment. However, a legend says that in Victorian, England, at the site of public hangin gs of pickpocketers, other pickpocketers frequently practiced their trade among the crowd. Although the threat of execution was taking place right in front of their eyes, the deterrence in its strongest form was ineffective (Streib 3). On the other hand , in 1970 and 1971 the Los Angeles Police Department surveyed persons whom they arrested for a violent crime, but did not use their weapon, did not carry a weapon, or carried an inoperative weapon. Of the ninety-nine criminals who responded to the questi on about why they had not killed or put themselves in a situation to kill, these were the following results: 50% were deterred by the threat of capital punishment; of the remaining 50%, 8% were unaffected by the death penalty because of a lack of enforce ment; 10% were undeterred by the death penalty and would kill even if it was regularly enforced; and the remaining 32% were not concerned with the death penalty because they would never carry a weapon in fear of hurting themselves or someone else (Streib 2).
Analyzing the above study closer, one might find that the threat of capital punishment greatly reduces the murder rate. But if that was the case, sociologists could show the effect of capital punishment by statistics, which they cannot do. Schola rs have compared murder rates of the states which frequently practice capital punishment against those states that rarely enforce capital punsihment with inconclusive results.
Investigators have also compared different periods in states which had capital punishment at some times of their history and not at others, but have found no difference in favor of the times and places with capital punishment. Studies have also looked at the number of murders in a particular city just before and...