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Justice or Social Injustice: The Death Penalty in America

By: Derin Watson

The historical problem:

During the Gilded Age (1865 – 1898), the death penalty had fallen into a state of political obscurity where its existence was widely accepted and unchallenged by legislators. The death penalty would remain in this same state until the beginning of the Progressive Era (1890’s – 1920’s), a period marked by social reform. Soon after the start of the Progressive Era,  reformists began questioning if the death penalty was an ethical and constitutional form of penal punishment. One of the first states to look into the ethics of the death penalty was New York. After a close examination of the available methods of execution in 1890, New York’s state legislatures “ruled that the electric chair violate[d] their state constitutional prohibitions” as a cruel and unusal punishment (Death Penalty Information Center). Almost 80 years after this decision, the death penalty was found once again found to be unconstitutional in the influential Furman v. Georgia (1972) Supreme Court case. In this case, the jury ruled that the death penalty violated the 8th amendment due to its arbitrary and discriminatory nature (Furman v. Georgia 408 U.S. 238). As a result of this decision, executions were temporarily suspended in every state until the federal government had created a standard for imposing the death penalty. 

The present-day problem: 

Before the 1950’s the death penalty was largely considered to be an ethical and constitutional problem because of its reputation as a cruel and unusual punishment. Over time though, legislators have begun to realize that the death penalty is morally problematic as well. This moral problem is a result of the death penalty’s nature as a punishment and the impact that it has on the United States’ global image. Unlike other penal sentences, the death penalty is the only sentence where the punishment is irreversable. This means that a person could be executed and later found to be innocent, and the government would not be able to undo their mistake. Unfortunately, this exact scenario is not all that uncommon. According to a study published by Samuel R. Gross around 4.1% of prisoners on death-row have been falsely convicted of their crimes. Even though this may seem like a small percentage, it’s jarring to think that hundreds of innocent people might’ve been executed over the past 150 years. The fact that the United States’ government continues to permit the death penalty’s usage depite being aware of this chance, 

In addition to being morally problematic, the death penalty also deteriorates the Unites States’ global image. It’s common knowledge that the U.S. is part of The Group of Seven (also known as the G7) which is a group comprise of the 7 most technologically and industrially advanced countries in the world. As one of the world’s most admired countries, the United States is expected to be a role model to other countries, yet we are one of 56 countries in the world that still practice the death penalty to this day (Reality Check Team). Besides Japan, the U.S. is the only member of the G7 that still uses the death penalty despite the fact that other members of the G7, such as the United Kingdom, abolished the death penalty almost 50 years ago. Even though the U.S. is considered to be one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world, that statement loses legitimacy when other countries see that the U.S. hasn’t adapted their policies to be more modern.


States With And Without The Death Penalty
Credit: Death Penalty – H E L P. PNG file. http://www.prolifehelp.org/death-penalty.html

My proposed solution:

Throughout my research, I have found that the only way to permanently solve the problems caused by the death penalty, is to abolish the punishment entirely. If I had the means to, I would propose a federal bill that would abolish the death penalty and replace it with a pre-existing punishment: life in prison without parole. Previous research indicates that life in prison without parole is a much more beneficial and humane alternative to the death penalty. One of the most common rebuttals to this point is that the national murder rate will increase if the death penalty is abolished. Although commonly believed to be the case, this claim has actually been found to “not only [be] untrue, but the reverse of the truth, as statistics show that the abolition [of the death penalty] has [actually] decreased [the amount] of murders”(Curtis). I think it’s also important to note that when provided “with [an] alternative to the death penalty, support for capital punishment decline[d] to less than 50%” which means the majority of Americans support non-lethal penal punishments. 

Another frequently used argument favoring the death penalty is that it’s a less expensive punishment than life in prison without parole, but this is also a misconception. According to The Death Penalty Information Center, “The death penalty is far more expensive than a system utilizing life-without-parole sentences as an alternative punishment” and “the high cost of [trials] and appeals required when a person’s life is on the line [call for] more lawyers and experts on both sides of the case” which makes the net cost of the death penalty skyrocket.

As well as the aforementioned, there is always the chance that a prisoner could be found innocent after their execution. The moral implications of this fact alone, is reason enough to replace the death penalty in favor of life in prison without parole. Furthermore, if an innocent person is sentenced to life in jail, they might only lose a couple of years of their life in prison before the judiciary committee realizes they were wrongfully sentenced. On the contrary, if that same person was given the death penalty, they would lose their life without being given the opportunity to prove their innocence. Looking at all the information of presented in my essays, I think it’s plain to see that the death penalty provides no benefit to our nation whatsoever and its usage should be prohibited nationally.

How can You get involved?

  • If given the option, you or your parents can vote for the moratorium of the death penalty on your state’s next ballot. 
  • You can attend organized strikes or advocacy groups to try and stop the execution of a death-row prisoners in your state/county.
  • You could also raise money or volunteer for organizations such as the Innocence Project or the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty who dedicate their full time to trying to exonerate prisoners on death-row.

Credit: California Innocence Project. “The Death Penalty in the United States.” youtube.com, July 16, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GjRFf2RlAnI

Feedback?

Once again, thank you for spending the time to read through my catalyst for change problem. If you have any feedback, feel free to answer any of the questions below or leave a comment on this post.

  • Did my webpage change your views on the death penalty? If so, how?
  • After looking at my webpage, do you think there is a world where the death penalty is necessary? Why or why not?
  • Do you think my micro-action steps are plausible and impactful? Would you consider taking any of them? 

Want more info on my topic? 

(Click here to view my personal interest essay)

(Click here to view my historical background essay)

(Click here to view my present-day problem and solutions essay)

Works Cited:

(Click here to view full works cited page)

 

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COMMENTS: 5
  1. April 24, 2020 by Caroline

    This was super interesting! Your research was very informative and I learned a lot about the background behind the death penalty. I think you did a great job, and I like how with your proposed solution you didn’t just say “let’s abolish the death penalty”. You recognized that it is easier said than done. I think your ideas are awesome!

  2. April 24, 2020 by Theo

    Ayy my man! Good stuff Derin.

  3. April 27, 2020 by Rojan Naimi

    Hi Derin, I was always interested in learning more about the ethics and morality of the death penalty and I never really knew much about it. The information and statistics you provided really put things into perspective for me and helped me develop a more clear understanding of the moral problematicness of the death penalty and the need for it to be abolished. Great work.

  4. April 27, 2020 by Madi Seda

    Hi, Derin!
    Really good presentation. Recently, I’ve been thinking about how ethical the death penalty is and if the rates of death penalty have decreased in recent years. Part of me feels as if the death penalty has a lot to do with someone’s moral compass: like if someone believes in the saying “an eye for an eye.” Considering the electric chair is mostly outdated, I believe there is progress being made towards eliminating the death penalty entirely. I would be interested in your thoughts towards violence in prisons, as being on death row isolates the person from other inmates, while being on life without parole wouldn’t; and we see in Jeffrey Dahmer’s case that he was murdered by an inmate while serving a life sentence.

  5. April 28, 2020 by Kyong Pak

    Nice work, Derin! Your research yielded compelling statistics that made for a persuasive solution proposal. Your choice of media and visual data enhanced your overall argument, and you brought attention to some really good organizations that are doing the hard work. The reality of exonerations is a convincing argument against our the death penalty in the U.S. Thank you for a well-researched examination of this part of our criminal justice system.

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