Capital punishment has been a part of public debate in the United States for as long as I can remember. Proponents say it prevents crime; opponents claim it is cruel and unusual punishment. Social science has been unable to either conclusively support or disprove the theory that capital punishment deters crime (Schonebaum, 2002), mirroring the mixed emotions of many Americans on the subject. Historically, execution has been a significant form of punishment for deviance from social norms and for criminal behavior. (Schaefer, 2009, p. 175) The most powerful argument for the deterrent effect of the death penalty comes from the commonsense notion that people fear death more than life in prison.
In 1967, Thorsten Sellin argued that “the presence of the death penalty in law and practice has no discernible effect as a deterrent to murder.” In the mid-1970s, Isaac Ehrlich countered after looking at national homicide rates between 1930 and 1970 that each execution deterred between seven and eight homicides. Many researchers have tried to duplicate Ehrlich’s results, but most of them have been unsuccessful. (Schonebaum, 2002) According to the website Illini for Life (Deterrence Factor,) although the murder rate has stayed relatively steady since 1976, the rate of execution has skyrocketed.
If so, why are crime rates in the United States comparatively high?
The US Murder Rate is 5.6 per 100,000 people, with a total population of 307 million people compared to The United Kingdom Murder Rate of 2.1 per 100,000 people and a population of 61 million citizens. (Murder rate intentional) Contrasting the US gun ownership rate of 39% per household to the UK rate of 4.7% (Gun ownership rates) gives some insight into our increased crime rate. Availability of handguns in the United States has been pointed to as a major factor in crime rates. But gun proponents emphasize the Second Amendment of the US Constitution as the reason handgun ownership cannot be denied to the majority of citizens. Also, Americans have been desensitized to violence by various media. Psychologists at Iowa State University showed that “exposure to violent video games increases aggressive thoughts, angry feelings, physiological arousal and aggressive behaviors, and decreases helpful behaviors.” (Iowa State University, July 27, 2006) These are just a few factors that I feel keep our crime rate higher than all Western Democracies.
What are some other countries’ responses to the death penalty?
The United States is the only Western democracy that practices capital punishment. (Schonebaum, 2002) In the eyes of most of the world, the United States is being hypocritical. We point out other countries that commit human rights atrocities and demand that they be ceased, yet we continue to execute prisoners.
International trends are unmistakably towards abolition. Use of the death penalty worldwide has continued to shrink, and has also been increasingly curtailed in international law....