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Capital Punishment: Costs Of The Death Penalty Essay, Research Paper

Capital Punishment: Costs of The Death Penalty

Let us suppose that killing as a form of punishment is a moral and

universally accepted practice. Would it then be acceptable to issue this

irreparable sanction to a select few while allowing others, equally accountable,

to avoid it? It is acceptable to our criminal justice system for it seems to be

standard operating procedure. Many embrace the death penalty based on the “eye

for an eye” concept. There is certainly some merit to this argument and it

seems quite fair and logical. Unfortunately our use of the death penalty is

neither fair nor logical. Our criminal justice system’s “lip service” to the

age-old concept is an insulting disguise for such an obscurity of fairness and

logic. The death penalty is frivolous and discriminatory in its procedure

because of the unreasonable prices we pay to execute certain groups at much

higher rates than others.

We pay different prices for using a death penalty. Sadly, today more than

ever, the dollar seems to be the endlessly interchangeable standard of value.

We strive to make money, save money and when we spend money we do so with a

valued return in mind. Accordingly, a popular argument contends that we spend

too much money incarcerating prisoners for life. We probably do but the price

tag on issuing a death sentence according to a Florida study is $3.1 million

compared to $1 million for a life sentence; a 3100% difference (Walker 1994,

108). Imagine your death being valued at $3.1 million – how flattering. Based

on these figures, the difference in the price of an execution and the price of

life behind bars is enough to feed 7,200 starving children for ten years.

The price of an execution is amazing. Naturally, for such a price, we

should consider our “valued” return. In return for an execution we receive

utter incapacitation; an essential return indeed but we get the same from a life

sentence at a fraction of the cost. What else do we get? Perhaps we satisfy a

need for revenge. Perhaps we feel that we need to keep revenge alive at any

price. After all, we pay top dollar for it. So who exactly is the target of

our vengeance and why? From 1930 to 1980 executions for whites numbered 1754

compared to 2066 for blacks (Bedau 1982). In 1978 blacks claimed 4888 murder

victims. Of these, 536 were white or 12% (Bedau 1982). About half the death

row population was black and 85% of their victims were white (Bedau 1982).

Blacks who kill whites have a 25% chance of receiving the death penalty while

whites have a 0% chance of receiving it for killing a black. For a black person,

killing a white person could be deadly.

Our criminal justice system’s use of the death penalty appears increasingly

void of rationale when we consider the other prices we pay. Executions take up

to fifteen years or longer (Walker 1994,106). We not only pay for executions

but incarceration as well! There is also the ultimate price. In the wake of

the criminal justice system’s quest to lethally condemn a specific offender,

some innocently accused are gassed, hanged and electrocuted in the name of

retribution. There are twenty-three known cases of the innocent being put to

death by the “state” (Walker 1994,106). Oops. The process of the death penalty

is not only frivolous. It is reckless as well.

The criminal justice system is discriminatory in its use of the death

penalty. If the overwhelming bias in the process of the death penalty isn’t

convincing then perhaps the phenomenal expenditures are. Either way we look we

find a gross absurdity. The funding of the death penalty is frivolous, its

fairness is unrealistic and its process as a whole is unconscionable.


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