Sunday, 26 October 2014

Morality 19: Capital Punishment Introduction

Higher RMPS Podcast
Capital Punishment - Introduction

This is available as an MP3 or to download as a podcast through iTunes
for Desktop and Apple devices, as well as PodcastHD for Android Devices. 

When the news reports a paedophile or child murder being sentenced its common for the public to remark “I’d kill ‘em”.  When pressed social surveys show that there is falling support for the death penalty, with only 45% of the UK supporting its reintroduction[1].  When asked if Britain was right to abolish the death penalty the public were split, 42% agreed and 42% disagreed.  This section of the course will explore the morality of the death penalty; how it’s done, where it’s done, why we stopped, who we did it to, and what people think about it.

What is capital punishment?

The term capital originates from the Latin capitalis, which literally means "regarding the head" (referring to execution by beheading).  Capital Punishment is commonly referred to as the Death Penalty.  Capital Punishment is a legal process where a person is put to death by the state as a punishment for a crime or crimes.  It is a moral issue as well as one that draws a great amount of controversy as the basic process is the government putting one of its citizens to death.  Does the government have a right to do this? 
The death penalty works as a form of protection as if the criminal is dead they can’t commit any more crimes; however, what if you’ve got the wrong person?  It’s hardly protecting the public if you execute the wrong person.  It works as a form of deterrence as it is the harshest punishment anyone can be sentenced to and thus should work to dissuade other criminals; however, as said before criminals don’t expect to be cause.  Moreover, recent polls isn’t clear is the public perceive it as a strong deterrent, which is a good indicator if criminals do.  It also works as a form of retribution as it is a clear eye for an eye punishment; it doesn’t, however, work as a form of reformation as…well…they’re dead.

Death Penalty Around the World

Capital punishment has, in the past, been practiced by most societies as a punishment for criminals.  Historically, the carrying out of the death sentence was often accompanied by torture, and executions were most often public.

Currently 58 nations actively use capital punishment, including China, Egypt, and several states in the USA; 98 countries have abolished it for all crimes, including France, Germany, and the UK; 7 have abolished it for ordinary crimes (keeping it for special circumstances such as war crimes), including Brazil and Peru; and 35 have not used it for at least ten years, such as Russia, Algeria, Zambia.  Nearly all countries in the world prohibit the execution of individuals under the age of

18 at the time of their crimes; since 2009, only Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan have carried out such executions which are prohibited under international law.

General arguments for the Death Penalty

The USA has a public and noted history of using Capital Punishment.  Families of victims murdered have described a sense of justice at seeing the killer of their loved one put to death.  Although polls may be close with how strong a deterrent the death penalty may be, it still may be a deterrent for a larger percentage of society.  Some have suggested that executing criminals also stops them being a burden on society and the state.

Protection seems to be the strongest argument for the Death Penalty, independent of religious or secular views.  If we execute the guilty then there is no way can harm anyone else.  When Jon Venables and Robert Thompson abducted, sexually abused, tortured, and murdered two-year-old James Bulgar the public were enraged.  The death penalty would have stopped riots.  The two were imprisoned and released after their sentence; however, Jon Venebles was arrested and sent back to prison for possessing and distributing child pornography.  Executing Venebles would have protected others from him.

General arguments against the Death Penalty

Regardless if you are religious or non-religious, life if precious.  We have an inbuilt instinct to protect life; some may violate this instinct but it is still our duty to be better human beings.  Opinions may be split on whether the death penalty is an effective deterrent; however, evidence has shown that states in the USA with the death penalty have similar murder rates than those without the death penalty.    This would seem to suggest that using the death penalty as a deterrent in fact does not work.  We often assume that given the amount spent on keeping someone in prison it would be far
cheaper to execute them.  When criminals are executed in Texan the Warden issues a statement to the press which often includes the cost of the drugs used[2], approximately $85.  However, this masked the greater costs including legal appeals and prison fees.  The median costs of executing a criminal is $1.26M, 70% more than keeping them in prison[3].  Many feel that the death penalty is a quick and easy way out for some, they would rather see them punished in jail.

The most compelling reason against the death penalty is the risk of executing an innocent person.  In 2011 Troy Davis was executed for murder despite 8 of the 9 witnesses recanting their testimonies stating they had been tortured by police to say Troy Davis was guilty.




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