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The death penalty

Even if the death penalty has been overturned in a rather large amount of countries-
eighty-six at the moment; the majority of these lands being industrial ones-there are still
many countries that do not have abolished it. There are even countries, such as the United
States, that overturned this punishment but reinstated it after a more or less long span of
time. The death penalty is today more than ever topical. It is thus a still much disputed issue
in the political agenda. A stormy debate has set in between those who are in favour of the
death penalty and those who are not. There are a number of arguments for and against the
death penalty. The goal of this essay is to show some of those pros and cons in order to
answer to the question of whether the death penalty should be legalised or not.

One of the main arguments used by the persons who are in favour of the capital
punishment is that it has a deterrent effect on the people. Indeed, it is perfectly easy to
imagine that the mere thought of being executed should deter any potential murderer, who
will then think twice before committing his crime or even- and it is the goal of this
punishment- abandon his idea of killing someone. If the murderer, even so, commits his
crime, he will be executed and this will be an example for the others. By executing a
murderer the society will get rid of an annoying citizen who represented a threat for her.

However, it seems that the threat of death punishment is not as efficient as most
people think. This is easily shown by the statistics. When we look at the figures of murder
rates where death punishment is applied, the rates are not lower than where it has been
abolished. In fact, murder rates are the same, or at least almost the same, in the countries-
or states in United States- where death penalty is applied in comparison with those where it
is not. A 1998 research study conducted for the United Nations concluded: " This research
has failed to provide scientific proof that executions have a greater deterrent effect than life
imprisonment. Such proof is unlikely to be forthcoming. The evidence as a whole still gives
no positive support to the deterrent hypothesis."1 This shows that, far from having a
deterring effect on people, the death penalty, on the contrary, doe not have any effect on
the diminution of the violence.

Another claim used by the supporters of death penalty is that capital punishment
could be a possible solution for the problem of lack of space in jails. This problem exists in
many jails in many countries. The jails are overcrowded and are not able to cope with this
problem. Many persons have tried to solve the problem but, at the moment, no valid
solution has been found. The problem is that there is still more persons in the prisons while
few people leave the prisons. It is more and more difficult to find space for a new prisoner.
There are even prisons where it is no longer possible to receive a new one. So the prisons
are obliged to group the prisoners together, who already have a stressful life. So they get
angry very quickly and it makes the task of the warders even more difficult than it already
was.

1
Nevertheless, the problem is that, as a matter of fact, it takes a long time for a
prisoner before being executed. Sometimes, it takes up to twenty years or more for the
execution to take place. This is due to different parameters, several of which are the
overcrowding of the prisons and the judicial outstanding. In fact, a large amount of prisoners
die in prison before their execution. Besides, the prisoners that are executed may have
become totally different persons during the time spent in prison and may have become a
mentally healthy person. At this point, the death of this person might be a loss for society
rather than a gain. There also is an underlying problem to the problem of overcrowding,
namely the fact that nine out of ten persons that are executed in the United States are black.
There is clearly a problem of discrimination.

The last argument that will be dealt with has to do with ethics as well as with an
aspect of human psychology. This argument is the proscription of murder. This is something
shared by all human beings. This proscription has been expressed in many instances but two
texts are enough to show its importance and its righteousness. Those two texts have both a
function of reference. There is firstly the Freudian theory and secondly the Bible. In his
theory of the child’s development, Freud states that the child must integrates this notion if
he wants a good and healthy psychological growth. This concept is vital for the human life,
otherwise life would be unbearable. Indeed, if there was not this proscription we would, for
instance, always fear to be killed after having done something wrong. The murder
proscription will reassure the child because, if he disobeys, he will know that he will not be
killed. Similarly the Bible forbids us to kill each other. This is told us in the Ten
Commandments given by God to Moses by these words: “Thou shalt not murder”. 2 We have
not been created to kill each other but, above all, all human beings are equal. This has been
clearly stated in the Declaration of human rights. The first article of this declaration says:

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with
reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. 3

On this basis, none human beings has the right to take away the life of someone else.

This essay has shown that there are numerous arguments for which we should
legalise the death penalty, as well as there are many arguments against this penalty. The
supporters of this punishment have indeed a point in several of the arguments that they use
to justify the legalisation of the death penalty. Nevertheless, the arguments used by those
who are against it are certainly not less worthy of note. On the contrary, they have more
weight and tip the scales in favour of those who are against the death penalty. Anyway, the
debate on the death penalty has always been sensitive, and it is likely to remain so. Yet,
every human being wants freedom, respect and above all wants to be treated equally as any
other one. Therefore the death penalty should not exist.

Pancu Daniela