I admit Death Row has always been something that made me curious, as have murderers, serial killers and the justice system itself. But it goes beyond morbid fascination into my desire to understand why people do what they do; a lot of it comes down to neurology, biopsychology, as well social and cultural forces. But this post is not to argue Nature Versus Nurture. This is my ethical consideration.
Is Capital punishment ethically sound? I don’t think so; an eye for an eye or a ‘life for a life’ does not equate to justice, it is bloodlust the same as in the Middle Ages. Besides, death is a way out; life in prison is a longer punishment, protecting the general public without having to murder the convict.
I think the real reasons (or excuses) behind Capital punishment are:
1) To reduce overcrowding in prisons.
In other words to save costs and the time it would take to find alternative solutions. This is also the reason many non-capital offenders are released early; it’s not just for ‘good behaviour.’
2) Outdated primitive bloodlust, where ‘justice’ is synonymous with revenge.
You would be amazed how many people call for the torture and death of a criminal, so long as it is not blood on their hands. The executions are generally performed in white tiled rooms by stoic prison staff, legalised murder under the pretense of justice in a clinical sanitary environment. A viewing room is separated by glass so the onlookers can see every bit of gore, but remain clean and separate from any feeling of responsibility. We live in a voyeuristic culture, where we can absorb information from behind the safety of a computer monitor, television screen, windows, the glass panel separating us from the wild animals at the zoo, or a criminal about to have his or her life taken, exposed under the stark lights and glare of onlookers’ eyes.
Many murder victims’ families do not seek this level of revenge and argue: ‘”MVFR (Murder Victims Families for Retribution) knows that – in spite of that pain vengeance is not the answer. The taking of another life by state killing only continues the cycle of violence.” One member writes, “To say that the death of any other person would be just retribution is to insult the immeasurable worth of our loved ones who are victims.”
3) To deter others from committing the same crimes.
At least read this article before making up your mind. The deterrent effects of capital punishment are based on opinion only, not facts, and are therefore not a logical or actual reason to maintain this barbaric practice.
Prevention is a good idea, but this is not the way to do it. Another problem is that most murderers probably aren’t thinking about the consequences of their actions when performing them, a lot of murders are in the ‘heat of the moment’, or driven by anger. But also some are the cold, calculated decisions of psychopaths whose biological makeup disallows them from feeling compassion or guilt, no matter how long they are forced to rot on Death Row.
4) In some countries executions have resulted in nonconsensual organ ‘donation’.
The theft of the convict’s organs regardless of their consent or religious/cultural beliefs still happens today. It has been common practice in China, where they are now allegedly moving to stop transplants of organs after executions due to a global outcry, see here in NYTimes. But why was this allowed to happen in the first place?
If you want to learn more about legalised execution around the world, it is worth visiting Amnesty here. And watch this new series on 40d, where Werner Herzog meets convicted criminals on Death Row, including Hank Skinner who, guilty or not, was not given a fair trial and had to fight for pieces of evidence to be DNA tested. His execution date has been rescheduled three times, and he was even sent to the ‘Death house’ where he ate his last meal, in a cell that overlooked the room where he would meet his death, only to have the phone ring and be told that the execution date had been put off. I question whether anyone deserves to have his or her life not only ended, but also toyed with in this manner.