Capital punishment is one of the most controversial topics in the United
States. Both sides of the issue list many reasons that their side is the more valid. In evaluating the death penalty, there are three issues which should be discussed: the cost of the death penalty versus life imprisonment; the death penalty's values as a deterrent; and the morality of the state putting someone to death.
Financially, the cost of capital punishment versus life in prison has been studied for many years. In 2006, California, one of the largest and most populous states, appointed a committee for studying the issue: the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice. In 2008, the committee published a report which encouraged states like New Jersey to place a moratorium on executions. The study showed these results:
Death row inmate= $63.3 million annually
Death penalty system- $137 million annually
Death penalty system with reforms for fair process=$232.7 million annually
Maximum penalty of life without parole=$11.5 million annually
Obviously, the costs to taxpayers of capital punishment is several times that of keeping someone in prison for life without parole. Why is this? The endless appeals and legal investments for the fifteen to twenty years after the death penalty verdict and before the execution use resources best used elsewhere.
Is capital punishment a deterrent? The "deterrent" theory assumes that facing the death penalty the criminal will not commit his crime. According to the District Attorney from New York City, "Serial killers, rapists, molesters rarely consider their potential demise from the death penalty prior to committing their crimes." Most criminals usually operate with the belief that they will not be caught. Studies in Oklahoma and California failed to find that capital punishment had a deterrent effect on violent crime. In one of these reports, these results were delivered:
87% of expert criminologists in the United States believe that abolition of the death penalty would not have any significant effect on murder rates.
In addition, debates about this problem prevent courts and legislatures from finding new solutions for crime problems. Most states have found that violent crime occurrences in states with a moratorium on the death penalty have not fluctuated either way.
Is the death penalty moral? An execution will not take away the harm that the criminal has done. The family or victim will still suffer emotional loss regardless of the criminal being alive or dead. Late Justice of the Supreme Court,Thurgood Marshall believed that capital punishment violated the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution which prohibits the federal government from imposing cruel and unusual punishment. Furthermore, those who oppose the death penalty accept that the state should not give itself the right to kill human beings in the name of the law or in the name of its people. Since humans are imperfect, the risk of executing the innocent can never be eliminated. Since 1976, 140 people have been released from death row after having been proven innocent. If just one of those men had been executed, that would have been one too many.
Martin Luther King, Jr. declared that,
Returning violence for violence only multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.