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Capital Punishment Research Essay, Research Paper
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 (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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