As long as we, as a civilization have been executing people for crimes that, in some cases, astound civilized people in their sheer brutality, we have also had the argument both for and against the Death Penalty. Many people argue that the process demeans people, bringing the people down to the level of the murderers and rapists that commit these crimes. They also argue that this punishment does not deter people from committing these types of crimes.
These people arguing on the basis of either line of reasoning are wrong in their assessment of this punishment.
Lets take the ” it makes us no better than the criminals” line of reasoning first. The Death penalty is a last option for those criminals who have been deemed to be unable to be rehabilitated, or who have committed crimes that are so heinous that death could be easily considered to be a just punishment. When someone takes a life in the commission of a crime, the very act demonstrates a casually dismissive attitude towards another’s life and liberty, and this dismissive attitude is counter to a civilized society, which depends on a certain level of respect towards another’s life and property.
When there is no respect, indeed when the disregard escalates into murder, society has an obligation to look to the victim first in terms of justice, for the victim cannot speak for himself. The death penalty is appropriate in these cases, because there cannot be a true ” leveling” of punishments, in other words, the punishment should rise to the level of the crime, in order to be called “justice”. This becomes society’s last attempt to level the playing field in terms of this justice.
This is something that juries have, over the many years, given considerable thought to, rarely coming back with what could be construed as a kneejerk reaction in their sentencing of defendants to the Death penalty. The bar is quite high, and various courts have raised the bar higher in past years, some would say too high, but that is up to the courts to decide. As what can easily be seen as the last option in a judgement, people are cautious in how they apply this penalty, and this caution is good, for it says that as a society, we are civilized enough to know that it IS the last option.
Now, as to the canard that this death penalty does not deter people from committing murder and other heinous crimes, well, this is true, because there will always be stupid and criminal people- that is just human nature, and that is not something that any penalty will cure. As Ron White, the comedian said, “You can’t fix stupid.” There will always be greedy people who will rob- there will always be evil people who will kill. This is an unfortunate fact of life, and all the good intentions in the world will not change this.
But one thing is for sure- the people you send to the death penalty will not re- offend. That much is 100% certain. Not a one of these people will bother another victim, and I for one can live with this easily. I can surely live with this option, rather than life in prison, because the death penalty is more compassionate.
What would you consider to be worse- to put someone to death, or keep them in a cage for the rest of their lives? If you said the latter, you are a cruel, cruel person. To live with no hope of ever getting out of the cage- well, I know I would rather die. Taking joy, or even satisfaction out of anyone’s imprisonment is a hard thing to feel, but when you know that there will never be an end to that suffering- well, you wouldn’t do that to a dog or cat, would you? Keep them in a cage with no room for the rest of their entire lives? And then there’s the cost of keeping these people incarcerated, all at taxpayer expense, which I find to be inexcusable.
I have no problem with rehabilitating prisoners, as long as there is a REASONABLE chance that these people will come out and have a productive life, but there truly are crimes that deserve the full weight of society’s judgement, and to try and save these people who are evil, is a misguided attempt at feel- good legislation, and does no one any good.
We can have a discussion on rehabilitating those who might be rehabilitated, but let’s be realistic about what we do and why we do this, and it is not because we enjoy it.
It is because it must be done.