The criminal justice system is an institution that deals with criminals and criminal activities guided by the goal of preventing and reducing crime, as well as in aiding in the maintenance of social order and control. In addition, the system creates certain laws and institutions of justice, penalizes those who violate set rules and laws in addition to correcting and rehabilitating prisoners. The death penalty or capital punishment is among the various punishments outlined in the penal code where punishment in form of executions and life sentences are meted out to criminals. The death penalty execution refers to the premeditated and planned legal killing of a victim by the government while life imprisonment means prison life without parole as punishment for capital crime committed. Many human rights organizations have spearheaded campaigns around the world against the death penalty considering it to be the ultimate and irreversible denial of human rights. This defines the lack of consensus between whether the death penalty should be upheld whereby punishment is reduced to life imprisonment. This paper discusses the pros and cons of life incarceration and execution.
Life Incarceration versus Death Penalty Executions
Many states still mete out the death penalty in form of executions which are performed in various ways including lethal injection and electrocution, among others; while others, like New Mexico, have abolished the death penalty and put in the punishment through life imprisonment (DPIC par.2). An advantage of death penalty executions is that it is a strong crime deterrent measure; research studies conclude that each execution deters between seven and eight homicides (Schonebaum par.6). Additionally, justice prevails as the executions give closure to the victim’s families considering the suffering they undergo as a result of the perpetrated crimes, and society is deemed better off considering taxpayers money that is used in life imprisonment. The deterrent measure is based on the idea that the threat of punishment, that is, execution by murder, is severe enough to counter the benefits or pleasures that criminals gain from capital crimes. However, from an ethical perspective, human rights organizations generally believe that the death penalty executions only serve to create a cycle of violence precipitated by a criminal justice system that is riddled with racial and economic biases and worsened by human errors. This is in line with the brutalization effect, which Shepherd (204-10) avers, brutalizes the sensibilities of society making potential murderers less inhibited and, therefore, more willing to commit more crimes. This precipitation of more crime and violence is perceived as the major disadvantage of death penalty executions worsened by the many botched executions that show inhumanity as provided by statistics from the death penalty information center (DPIC par.1).
For life incarceration, the advantage lies in the potential for the criminal to be positively rehabilitated for the betterment of society, which is supported by the reason why the criminal justice systems spends copious amounts of money rehabilitating prisoners. Prisons like Dwight Correctional Center in Illinois are one of the examples of prisons that effect positive change in prisoners and society especially due to the lenient conditions that enable rehabilitation. Ethically and morally, sparing human life is another advantage that life incarceration has over the death penalty considering that all human life, despite the wrongs, is sacred. The justice system demonstrates its humanity by giving the life sentence instead of the death penalty execution while supporting other crime deterrence and rehabilitation programs. Additionally, some criminals may be innocently charged for crimes they did not commit or some who are not fit for the death penalty as seen in the case of the mentally ill Joseph Corcoran (Journal Gazette par.1). However, from a social perspective, the grieving families are forced to relive their misery due to the death of loved ones; when the perpetrators are released in one way or another, someone might even seek revenge against them. Moreover, from an economic standpoint, preserving criminals on capital crimes with regards to life imprisonment considering their highly negative criminal activities, borders on misuse of available and scarce resources, financial or others. The DPIC shows a cost of over $90,000 per year per inmate and over 60 million dollars per year (par.2). Some prisons are also characterized by the most inhumane and harsh conditions including violence and terrible sanitation, among others, which act as another death sentence as shown by prisons run in Texas (Associated Press par.5).
Evidently, death penalty executions and life incarceration deliver punishments to criminals that may be commensurate with the type of crimes perpetrated. However, death penalty executions are inconclusively shown as being able and unable to deter crime. Even though death penalty executions deliver punishment fit for related crimes, the sanctions seem to be primarily based on revenge and not justice. Moreover, some people may be innocent, which underscores the reason why justice should not discard the sanctity of life where alternatives like life incarceration are present. The economic standpoint does not contribute much considering that human life is destroyed during death penalty executions, which defines why I prefer life incarceration over death penalty executions. In conclusion, I believe in the sanctity of human life where innocent blood may be spilt during death penalty executions and in consideration to positive potential change that life imprisonment may bring, I support life incarceration.