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Thou Shalt Not Kill...Or Shalt Thou?
Cramped in tiny cubicles, “more like boxes than [jail] cells…condemned to virtual sensory deprivation” are the nearly twenty inmates, not including at least five of which that have already been executed, that have been sentenced to death row in 2011 (Elsner n.p.).
It is only February.
One by one, day by day, month by month, fellow human beings are being forcibly led to their death beds -- or rather their death chairs, haplessly defenseless against a government corrupt by desperation. Capital punishment, despite the largely imprudent popular faith in it’s justice factor-- the concept that the death penalty ought to be enacted against anyone convicted with a capital crime, whether there is the possibility of a wrongful conviction or not (which there always is) -- is, in most cases, one of the most heinous, cruel, and largely gratuitous punishments inflicted in the United States. Therefore, the U.S. must crucially scrutinize the implementation of capital punishment and ought not use it outside of critically necessary means. For example, cases similar to and more harmful than terrorism, and attempted/enacted genocide would be an example of a critically necessary means.
Regardless, it is confounding how open the United States’ judicial branch and many, if not most, of its citizens are toward retaining and executing capital punishment. One would think, having that America serves not only as a democratic nation, but as a leading nation, it would be considerably more aware and indignant toward injustice and the degradation of human life in general. The notion of “capital punishment for a capital crime” sounds favorably sagacious on paper, but in actuality, it is just an appealing way of saying “an eye for an eye”, and how expedient that supporters seem to conveniently repress the latter part of that saying which declares that such a notion “makes the whole world blind”.
The majority of arguments for the death penalty center around the idea that capital punishment is a deterrent; that “criminals do not fear [prison] anymore, because they know they will not die” therefore capital punishment is only a last resort; “there is no more deterring factor left for…murderers” ( Anonymous n.p., Bayat n.p.). Recall the attempted escape from the Ellis Unit prison which, prior to 2000, housed Texas death row inmates. Seven inmates conspired and attempted a jail break in November of 1998, resulting in a move of the unit to the Polunsky Unit -- a maximum security prison east of the former location (Elsner n.p). The issue of jail breaks and potential “escape prison” conspiracies is enough to disprove the idea that prison is no longer a fear. Being taken away from one’s family and life to be thronged together with strangers in an unfamiliar place where all of one’s basic rights are denied, is, if not scary, ominously uncomfortable. The popular belief among proponents that sentencing murderers and thieves to life in prison is without effect, whereas “life in jail [has become] known as ten to fifteen years”, is shamefully true (Anonymous). Our courts and justice system has become lenient in letting criminals out of their time early. It is not uncommon for someone issued a life sentence to be let off in fifteen to twenty-five years. This increases not only the chances but the instances, as well, of recidivism because they’re issued back into a “dog-eat-dog” world and they have means of supporting themselves, or knowing how to behave in such a different environment; an environment where one has to think for himself . However, the solution is not simply to make an example out of every person accused of murder or theft-- contrary to one supporters’ belief that “those who show no mercy should find none” (“Show”) . That action, in itself, presents countless irretrievable errors such as allowing innocent men and women to suffer a disgraceful death. Not only so, but it displays the exact opposite of democracy. According to an article in USA Today, thousands are “wrongly convicted each year because they are pressured to accept guilty pleas or have incompetent attorneys” which renders the suspect hopeless in the face of a corrupt justice system.
Brandon Moon, a citizen from Kansas City, Mo, wrongfully served practically seventeen years, for the rape of a woman from El Paso, until DNA evidence proved his innocence. Ryan Matthews from Louisiana, spent five years on death row before he was proven innocent. “More than one-hundred and fifty people who were convicted in thirty-one states and the District of Columbia served a total of one-thousand, eight-hundred years in prison before they were exonerated” (USA).
On death row, the prison cells are usually 6 x 9 square feet around and about 9.5 feet high. Inmates are only allowed out of their cells for a fifteen minute shower, every other day, and one, limited visitation hour per week. Being confined to such a small area, illustrated in Figure 1, for almost twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, is enough to drive anyone mad. Elsner, in his review of a few letters between death row inmate, Roy Pippin and his friend, Nancy Bailey, a death penalty activist, he agrees that in such an environment, “[death row inmates] are slowly being driven crazy.” Along with the encumbrance of solitary confinement comes an average waiting period of fourteen years (“Anti-death”). In these conditions, it is safe to say that being on death row is nothing less than cruel, however it is shamefully common.
It is the duty of the United States government to assure the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and despite the bemused thought that somehow such duty is being upheld by retaining the death penalty, the government acts in malevolent hypocrisy. It acts in a manner that says, “it is not tolerable for common citizens to determine whether other person lives or dies, only the government has such a right.”
Therefore, for the above reasons, the United States ought to create and pass federally binding legislation limiting the death penalty to uncontrolled cases alone. Instances in which capital punishment is used outside of relatively vast cases, such as occurrences in which national security is threatened, or the lives and well being of three or more people are being gambled or ripped away, is pernicious.
Instead of warranting the death penalty, the United States ought to deliberate alternatives, such as life sentences “without the possibility of parole plus restitution [which]…not only costs less than capital punishment, but keeps the prisoner in jail for the rest of his life--so he [or she] cannot return back to society. (Restitution means that while the prisoner is in jail, he will be put to work - with all the money made going to the family of the victim)” (“Alternatives”). The author of “Alternatives to the Death Penalty” contends that:
Public opinion over the past few years has shown an increase in support for this alternative as well. When asked plainly of the death penalty, 77% of the public support and believe that the death penalty is good, according to recent polls. However, when an alternative to the death penalty is presented, public support drops. When asked the same question with an alternative such as prison with parole after 25 years, death penalty support drops to 56%. When the alternative "prison with no parole ever" is introduced, death penalty support drops further to only 49%. And finally, when introduced to life in prison with no parole ever, plus restitution, death penalty support drops to its lowest, at 41% - becoming the minority to that alternative. The public is becoming more aware of the flaws in our justice system, and because of this, public support for the death penalty is at its lowest ever.
Another plausible alternative to capital punishment is requiring that 100% of a prison sentence be carried out by the prisoner. It is often detrimental to society as a whole when prisoners are given parole, so instead of parole, prisoners, toward the end of their stay, can be relocated to a more civilized sector of the prison, sort of like a mock society, where they are rehabilitated (which is the original goal of prison systems) and sufficiently taught how to live in a civilized society. The more accustomed one gets to living peacefully with others, the more likely he or she is to resist recidivism.
Lastly, “the people” ought to promote reform in the judicial branch. Instead of incompetent, reluctant lawyers issued by the state to those who are not able to pay for their own, there should be “an equal opportunity for fair trial” given to everyone ( “Alternatives”). Without an attorney to represent the accused well, how is justice being upheld?
America must pull itself together and develop more moral and acceptable means of dealing with crime and criminals in the United States. What example is being set by being one of the leading nations that partake in capital punishment? America must rid itself of such disgrace and reform itself to the government “of the people, by the people, and for the people”, not against the people.
“Alternatives to the death penalty.” msu.edu. 24 Feb. 2011.
Anonymous: "Death Penalty and Sentencing Information in the United States." Internet.
Bayat, Mufti Zubair. "Capital Punishment Maintains Law and Order." At Issue: Does Capital
Punishment Deter Crime?. Ed. Amy Keyzer. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2008. Opposing
Viewpoints Resource Center. Gale. AUSTIN HIGH SCHOOL- Sugarland FBISD. 15
Elsner, Alan. “Inmate Says Texas Death Row is a Living Hell.” Reuters News Service. 7 Jan.
2002. Web. 22 Feb. 2011.
“Report: Thousands Wrongly Convicted Each Year.” USA Today 23 Feb. 2011. Web.
Winters, Paul A., ed. “Show No Mercy to the Merciless.” San Diego: Greenhaven Press, Inc. 1997. Print. Opposing Viewpoints Ser.
United States Bureau of Justice. Anti-death Penalty. Web. 24 Feb. 2011.
Whitaker, Thomas. “Photos From Inside Texas Death Row, Including a Typical Cell.” Online
Posting. 7 Aug. 2010. Web. 24 Feb. 2011.