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Capital Punishment Research Essay, Research Paper

Capital Punishment

Capital Punishment refers to the sentence or decision to

a capital crime such as murder, rape, or assault. Many times,

the sentence is life in prison or execution. Currently, the

United States is the only western democracy that still has

execution on the books. An alternative to execution is life

imprisonment, which is common throughout the world. There are

many features, however of life imprisonment that are debated.

Treatment of offenders of capital crimes is questionable in

certain prisons. Also, the safety of society is a question at

hand when discussing life imprisonment assuming the prisoner

could be up for parole or escape. Lastly, the rehabilitation

process of offenders of capital punishment is a big question

mark. Many wonder what success it brings, just how effective it

really is, and what its purpose is for criminals who’ve

committed such horrible crimes as homicide, or other capital


The Article “The Wrong Man” by Alan Berlow points out

some of the wrongs about the death penalty. There are numerous

stories of men who spent their life on death row, only to be

released days or hours before their death because of being

proved innocent. In his article Alan talks about “the growing

number of innocent prisoner being discovered on death row” and

how the government needs to “wake up”(Berlow 7). This means

that more and more cases are being rushed to execution without

all of the facts. Remember, in order to give a sentence, the

client must be guilty beyond reasonable doubt, and it seems

that this is sometimes ignored as unclear cases are being

pushed by officers and lawyers to executions. Another point

brought up by Berlow is how good of a lawyer defendants have in

these capital cases. “Most public defendants are so poorly paid

that talented lawyers tend to stay away from this sort of

practice (Berlow 9).” This means that defendants that are poor,

which most are, cannot afford to get a lawyer that will look

into the case as much as he can, and try to help the defendant

as much as possible. Because of the economic status of most

people tried for murder, a lot of cases end up being like this,

where the public lawyer is paid poorly and doesn’t give much

effort towards the case at all.

Berlow also talks about how the death penalty may be

taken away. He says “if it could be proved that an innocent

person has been executed (Berlow 14)”, the public support would

drastically decline. Now, Berlow says “70-76% support the death

penalty depending on the poll (Berlow 13).” This is a major

increase from the earlier part of the century, and as

executions become more and more common, public opinion and

media attention go down. Berlow says how maybe if someone that

was innocent beyond doubt was executed like in England, the

same result of England would be likely to happen: a banning of

the death penalty. To conclude the article Alan Berlow gives a

few revisions of the system he think would help errors in the

system, starting with how defendants are investigated to how

the trail goes and how the evidence is conducted. The death

penalty can be good, if used correctly. This form of capital

punishment is not a bad thing, as long as there is justice and

fairness in the case. However, if it continues to be sketchy,

it may soon become clear that an innocent man has died for

another’s crime, and the future of the death penalty may be up

in the air.

Besides the death penalty, capital punishment can also

refer to life imprisonment and the various aspects of it. This

includes the treatment of prisoners, and the respect they are

given by their officers. Another aspect of life imprisonment is

the idea of maximum security. The public does not want

criminals convicted of a capital crime back on the streets

because of an escape or something like that. Another factor of

life in prison is the rehabilitation process offered by most

all prisons. Many, wonder, though, just how effective the

educating and reformation of prisoners really is, and if it is

neccessary at all.

Treatment of criminals of capital crimes is a debatable

topic. Some feel that they should be treated bad to get revenge

at them, others say that they need to be treated like equals.

Chapter 2 of the textbook gives the Christian point of view

when it says, “The Catholic Church has a long tradition of

respecting the dignity of those in prison (textbook 35).” This

quote shows how Christians feel, following the will of Jesus

who once told of how what we do to those in prison, we do to

him. Jesus says if we can treat them well, we are treating him

well. Chapter 2 of the textbook also, however points out that

many prisons do not take this approach. It talks of “rampant

guard violence against prisoners” and “prisoners forced to lie”

(textbook 37-38) and other denying of basic rights. One must

wonder if this is necessary to control prisoners. Some say yes,

others disagree. Officials in Georgia took a different approach

to control its overcrowded prison. Because of the immense

overpopulation, officials decided to place some prisoners in

tents, while the inmates debated whether it was “cruel and

unusual punishment (Pilcher 1).” When the tents went up,

however, prisoners were practically standing in line to get a

tent. It seems that the tents were air-conditioned while the

rest of the prison had fans. Also, the tents were nice living

places. This very pleasant treatment of the inmates got an

unexpected response to when inmates “are willing to behave to

get to stay in the unit (Pilcher 1).” It seems that when

inmates are treated with respect and dignity, they act better.

Out of the 168 inmates that got tents, only 2 got filed for

discipline reports (Pilcher 1). This article showed that with

better treatment, the inmates gave in return better behavior.

Maybe the Church is right. Even criminals and offenders of

capital crimes should be treated with dignity and respect. Look

what happened when they were treated how humans are supposed to

be. Now, I am not saying we should go out and but air-

conditioned tents for all prisoners, but certainly if they are

treated better, they will behave better, and this proves it.

Another topic of debate with capital offenders is

security, especially with those who got life in prison. With

that kind of sentence, no one wants that person out on the

street. This debatable topic is brought to the attention of

those in Montana by Michael Erskine in the article “Dozens of

Killers in Medium Security.” Eskine states “records show that

52 of the 177 Montana…convicted of homicide offenses (Erskine

1)”. This means that around 30% of the inmates are serving for

a capital crime. With that kind of figure, one would think that

this prison would be maximum security for the safety of

society, especially those in Montana. But that is quite the

case as “a pair that escaped May 20 [1999](Erskine 1)” are now

a harm to society. There may have been more since this article

was written only a month after that escape. This is “a medium

security prison handling maximum security inmates,(Erskine 1)”

Erskine says in his article. The people of Montana and society,

in general are not being protected as they should. Though this

is only one prison, there are sure to be others with the same

situation, where there are too many capital offenders for the

prison not to be maximum security prison.

Perhaps one of the most important aspects of prison life

is the rehabilitation part of being in prison. With capital

punishment often being life in prison, capital offenders are

the most likely for rehabilitation. Chapter 2 of the textbook

states how the U.S Catholic Bishops feel about rehabilitation,

saying “The most important purpose of prisons… is

rehabilitation (textbook 36).” This shows that Christians feel

the re-orienting and reforming of a person is key to prisoners

and very important in all prisons and in all cases. The belief

here is that everyone must have a chance, and that everyone, no

matter who you are, going to make mistakes. Though it is kept

in mind that people do not change overnight, the Church

believes that anyone can change, as long as they are willing


An alternative to prison and a form of rehabilitation is

the AIC as described in an article by Heather O’ Neill. She

writes on how certain criminals can benefit from the program.

This form of rehabilitation for some offenders is cheaper than

prison(costing $5,000 a year as opposed to $25,000 a year per

inmate), and seems to be more helpful to society. In

Connecticut where this article was written, O’Neill says, “jail

is meaningful again (O’Neill 1)”. Instead of serving 2 years

for a 20 year sentence, the AIC has improved the system now

that criminals serve an average of at least 75% of their

sentence, a drastic improvement over the years. Rehabilitation

services like this seem a good idea, helping society that much,

so services liek this one should be popping up in other parts

of the country soon. This rehabilitation is exactly what the

U.S Catholic Bishops mean when they say it is the most

important part of prison.


Ahlers, Julia and Michael Wilt. Christian Justice: Sharing

God’s Goodness. Winona: Saint Mary’s Press, 1995. 30- 40.

Berlow, Alan. “The Wrong Man.” Atlantic Monthly. Nov. 1999.

Erskine, Michael. “Dozens of Killers in Medium Security.” The

Commercial Appeal. June 1999: A1.

O’Neill, Heather. “Programs Offering Alternatives…”

Connecticut Post. August 1999.

Pilcher, James. “Inmates Enjoy New Quarters: Tents.” The

Associated Press News Service. August 1999.

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