Sunday, January 23, 2011

Death Row

Hey Readers!

I’ve been doing some research recently on the death penalty and issues related to it for one of my A level subjects known as the “General Paper”. Very general aint it...

Based on the information I gathered, I wrote out an argumentative essay on whether the death penalty should be abolished. I just wanted to share it with you here. Feel free to comment on it!

In the year 1994 alone, 76 inmates were put to death in Singapore. In the following year, 73 others lost their lives as they were subjected to an inhumane hanging within the cold confines of Changi Prison. According to the United Nations, Singapore had the highest per capita execution rate in the world between 1994 and 1999, which is estimated to be 1.36 executions per hundred thousand of population (1). 58 countries worldwide are still practicing the death penalty, while 95 of them have completely abolished it (2). The debate about whether the death penalty should be abolished is still a controversial one. I feel that the death penalty should be abolished for the following reasons: it is not an effective crime deterrent, it puts innocent lives at risk, it is immoral and illogical and there are many better alternatives. 

The death penalty has failed to serve one of its prime purposes and that is, to deter crime. Some reports even suggest that the death penalty has increased crime rates. For example, a study conducted on the capital punishment in Oklahoma found that there was a significant increase in stranger killings and non-felony stranger killings after Oklahoma resumed executions after a 25 year moratorium. Studies posted by the Death Penalty Information Centre (3) confirm that in 2001, the murder rates in USA states which did not utilize capital punishment were 37% lower than those states which did utilize it. From these results, it is evident that the death penalty does not deter crime. That is one of the reasons for which many countries have abolished this practice. As a matter of fact, abolitionist countries now have substantially lower crime rates than their retentionist counterparts. For example, the murder rates in the United States is about three times higher than in countries such as Sweden, France and Italy; all of which do not practice the death penalty (4). 

The death penalty puts innocent lives at risk. Just as we humans are not perfect beings, the justice system we created is not ideal. People are, at times, falsely accused of crimes and are not granted fair trials. This can occur due to various reasons such as discrimination against certain groups of people and the inability to afford a highly qualified attorney. An example is the execution of Timothy Evans (5). Evans was tried and executed in 1950 for the murder of his baby daughter Geraldine. An official inquiry 16 years later showed that it was Evans's fellow tenant, serial killer John Reginald Halliday Christie, who was responsible for the murder. All the justice system could do for Evans then was to give him a posthumous pardon. This example goes to show that the justice system can go wrong with the use of the death penalty and therefore, it is putting innocent lives at stake. If the very people that the death penalty is designed to protect are at stake, should we even be using it?

The death penalty is also illogical and immoral. The very fact that certain countries, such as Singapore, use the death penalty today shows that they think they are omniscient. They think that they have the boundless knowledge and wisdom necessary to decide the course of someone’s life. They think they know what actions deserve death and what don't. But are they actually that powerful and knowledgeable? Have they reached such a state of life and knowledge that we can readily decide who lives and who dies? I don't think so. I don't think humanity, as a whole, has attained such wisdom yet. Allow me to explain. Today humanity heavily pollutes Earth. Because of our relentless struggle for short term growth, we fill her rivers and beautiful streams with the waste that we don’t want to deal with. We emit massive amounts of pollutants and greenhouse gases into her atmosphere. Many scientific theories, such as the theory of Global Warming, suggest that we will indirectly kill ourselves as we destroy our planet. Most people are aware of this problem, but as a human race, we are doing very little about it. If humanity is omniscient enough to make a decision as grave as ending a life, why isn't humanity omniscient enough to prevent it's own suicide? Humanity is, in actuality, not that omniscient. Humanity does not have the knowledge and wisdom necessary to determine the consequences of consciously ending a life. Since we have so little an understanding of our world and ourselves, wouldn't it be illogical and immoral to make an uninformed decision and consciously end something as precious as Life?

The last reason for which the death penalty should be abolished is because there are better alternatives to it. For one, the death penalty could be replaced by the "life without parole" sentence. It still prevents the inmate from committing crimes against society. The life in prison sentence is also a lot harsher than the death penalty. By executing the killer, the state is providing him with an easy way out of his existence. But by keeping him alive and in prison for life, the inmate would be forced to live his remorseful and painful life within the confines of a prison cell. A life in prison sentence is also a cheaper alternative than the death penalty. A report of the California Commission of the Fair Administration of Justice (6) showed that the additional cost of confining an additional inmate in death row is $90,000, 10 times (7) the cost of putting an inmate in prison for life. This large amount cost for putting an inmate in death row is mainly due to the long and complex judicial processes that take place to decide the fate of the inmate. Another study (8) showed that California could save $1 Billion over 5 years by replacing the death penalty with the life in prison sentence. This reduction in costs by abolishing the death penalty would be financially beneficial for the taxpayers, who are after all paying for the proceedings of the court of law.

Human Life, despite its misdoings, is always precious. The death penalty undermines the dignity of life and devalues society’s perception of life. It does not deter crime, puts innocent lives at risk, is immoral and illogical and has many better alternatives. For these reasons, it should be abolished. Criminals deserve to be punished and the victims of crimes deserve justice. But the death penalty is simply not a solution. Its usage in our society has converted our system of justice into a system of vengeance. We are not serving justice by executing killers. We are only emulating their heinous acts. As the saying goes, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind...”


Source of motivation for this essay:

The Death Penalty: Society’s Injustice System

By Alisha Ott


  1. Very lucid. In the alternatives though, won't it be better to stress on reform rather than a "lifer"? I say this because it kinda contradicts the argument from morality and logic? Since imprisonment for life without parole is harsher, doesn't it make it more immoral and illogical?

  2. Hi Suresh. I'm so sorry for this super late reply. You're perfectly right, it does contradict the argument about morality. I'm going to write a new post about what I think prison systems should be like, and hopefully the solution I provide will fix this problem of prison being immoral.