After centuries of nearly universal implementation, the death penalty remains a deeply debated political issue. While one execution takes place, other murders occur, and the question still stands: Will the death penalty safeguard society and deter murder, or will it not? The death penalty cannot be considered a proper economical and moral means of punishment to deter those who might commit capital offenses, or can it? In the past, capital punishment horrified people, which deterred them from committing crime.
In England, the country from which the United States dopted the death penalty, the death penalty was imposed for a rather large number of offenses in an effort to discourage people from committing crimes. Methods of inflicting the death penalty have ranged “From stoning in biblical times, crucifixion under the Romans, beheading in France, to those used in the United States today: hanging, electrocution, gas chamber, firing squad, and lethal injection”(Bedau 124). There were drastic penalties for such serious crimes as homicide. Execution was a suitable punishment for those times.
Today, hough, the law is not as strict. This leads potential criminals not to fear the death penalty because government today uses more “humane” methods of execution, rather than the brutal punishment that history portrayed. People who oppose the death penalty say that “there is no evidence that the murder rate fluctuates according to the frequency with which the death penalty is used” (Masur 153). It is more likely that the convict would be paroled instead of being executed because of the present practice of allowing unlimited appeals.
Convicted criminals are not exposed to cruel punishment, but rather given a long waiting period. If the criminal is put to death, it is usually done as mercifully as possible. One problem with the death penalty, presently, is that crime is not decreasing, but rather increasing. If capital punishment is supposed to deter crimes such as murder, it is not serving its purpose. Even philosophers, such as Beccaria, Voltaire, and Bentham of the Enlightenment Period, argued that “the death penalty was needlessly cruel, overrated as a deterent, and occasionally mposed in fatal error” (Fogelson 89).
Another problem with the death penalty is the enormous amount of money being spent on implementation. It costs taxpayers millions of dollars more to execute a criminal than to lock him up for life. The number of prisoners on death row has been steadily increasing and will soon meet all time highs. This fact brings up the question of economic feasibility of the implementation, as well as the question of weather the death penalty is actually an effective deterrent to crime. Currently, Texas leads the nation in both death row population and in the number of executions.
Texas has 351 condemned men and 4 women awaiting sentence, and has had 46 executions since 1977. These prisoners spent an average of eight years on death row and cost Texans an average of 2. 3 million dollars per case (“Execution” B8). The legal process a condemned prisoner goes through is very lengthy and costly. A person is only given the death penalty for certain crimes in Texas. A death sentence is handed down if a person is convicted of the murder of a police fficer or fireman, murder during certain felonies, murder for pay or reward, multiple murders, or murder during prison escape.
Once a criminal has been sentenced, he or she can appeal the decision. In addition to the courts appeals, the cost of an average of $180,000 per case, the $150,000 prison cost also escalates the economic burden to the state. This cost does not include the $21,000 execution cost or the $19,500 needed for extra security (Van den Haag 123). To have a death row prisoner means that the state must provide police, fire, and public safety protection.
They also require special housing units, extra guards, food, and around-the-clock security (Van den Haag 123). To cut down costs, several alternatives to the death penalty have been discussed by public officials. One alternative is to sentence criminals to life imprison without possibility of parole instead of execution. Although this plan would save millions of dollars, it would create problems in the prison system. The end result would be killing each other and killing prison guards without the threat of serious consequences (“Execution” B8).