There’s been a debate raging all over the United States for years regarding the death penalty. It is undoubtedly a permanent solution to stopping a single person from committing any further crime. It also has a huge amount of historical precedent. Then again so does slavery and misogyny. Just because something has been done doesn’t mean that it should continue to be done. However, there are two sides to this particular argument.
To understand the nature of crime and punishment, it’s important to remember that incarceration is relatively new as a punishment. A person being jailed used to be a temporary measure before the punishment (something that’s likely now illegal such as lashing or public humiliation) was to be administered. It’s important to keep that in mind when discussing the death penalty versus a life sentence.
Life in prison is often thought to be a more humane sentence than the death penalty. Death is the end, period. Life in prison may still offer a person chances to enjoy some parts of living, while providing them time to mature and change. This is a part of the problem… when a person is kept in prison for life, the person whose sentenced is not the person that’s in prison 20, 30, or even 40 years later. People change, regardless of where they are.
Of course, life in prison is also more expensive than the death penalty. If a person is dead, then there’s no charge to feed them, house them, or to deal with their medical problems. Their account is closed and they’re no longer a burden on the system.
However, for punishment to work it must meet several qualifications. It must be swift, certain, and public. If it was guaranteed that every person who was convicted of murder would be put to death, they were put to death where it could be seen, and it was done quickly after they were convicted, then the death penalty would be a more effective punishment.
This is assuming, of course, that the right person is convicted. In a variety of capital crimes in the United States it’s been seen that people have been unjustly imprisoned for years. Only with the advance of technology has evidence been uncovered that proves these people didn’t commit the crimes they were going to be put to death for.
So this is really the crux of the question of the death penalty versus life in prison question. Are we as a people ready to admit that our system will be sending at least some innocent people to death? Or would we be willing to shoulder the financial burden of caring for prisoners, some of whom may still be innocent of any wrong doing, for their entire lives? Is there a way to fix the system so that this uncertainty can be eliminated from the equation? These are questions that people should be asking, as well as whether or not either of these two options are serving the goals of both punishment and fairness.