Over 70% of the countries in the world have abolished the death penalty. The United States is a nation that still enforces capital punishment, standing in stark contrast to other democracies. It’s used methods like firing squads, hanging, the electric chair, and lethal injections. However, over the past years, Americans’ view of the death penalty has shifted. According to a Gallup poll, 60% of participants believe life in prison without parole is a better punishment than death. Why should the United States and other countries that use capital punishment abolish it? Here are five reasons why the death penalty is wrong:
#1. It’s inhumane
The international human rights treaty – The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment – is intended to prevent actions considered inhumane. While the Convention doesn’t take a clear stance on the death penalty, many believe executions fall under the type of punishment described in the document. In the United States, research shows that 3% of executions between 1890-2010 were “botched.” What does it mean to “botch” an execution? It causes severe suffering to the prisoner. Lethal injection has the highest rate of error despite being the most “humane” – and most common – option. When injections go wrong, it can take a long time for a prisoner to die. Exams after death show serious chemical burns and other injuries. Opponents of the death penalty say this demonstrates cruel and inhumane punishment.
#2. The death penalty disproportionately affects certain groups
The death penalty is not a good example of blind justice. Studies show that the mentally ill, people of color, and the poor make up the majority of death row inmates. In the United States, between 5-10% of prisoners on death row have a severe mental illness, according to Mental Health America. As for racial groups, despite making up only 13% of the US population, black people make up over 40% of the prisoners with a death sentence. When researchers take a deeper dive, they discover patterns of discrimination based on race. According to the United Nations, the poor are also disproportionately affected by the death penalty on a global scale. They are less likely to get good representation and the system is biased against them. Even though these groups are not committing the most crimes, they are the ones receiving the most severe punishment.
#3. The death penalty can be used as a tool for control, not justice
In theory, the death penalty is only intended for use as punishment for the most serious crimes, like murder. However, in places around the world, governments use executions for non-lethal crimes. This includes drug-related offenses, burglary, adultery, blasphemy, and political crimes. It becomes clear that many governments are not interested in justice, but rather suppression and control. By using the death penalty so arbitrarily, authorities set their own definitions for what’s “unacceptable” in society and what’s an appropriate punishment. It makes citizens fearful and violates their human rights. Allowing the death penalty to exist allows corrupt governments to use executions for their own purposes.
#4. It can’t be undone if new evidence is revealed
What makes the death penalty distinct from life in prison is that the judgement can’t be reversed. It’s a final punishment. However, what if new evidence is discovered and it turns out the prisoner was innocent? In the US, the rate of error is extremely high. Since 1973, 159 people have been released from death row. New technologies like DNA testing have played a big role. If timing and circumstances had been different, prisoners would have died for a crime they didn’t commit. How many other death row inmates are at risk for unjust execution? Even if they aren’t all innocent, a deeper dive into their cases could reveal discrimination, inadequate representation, and other issues that would prove they didn’t receive a fair trial. In a society where the legal system can’t be relied on for justice, the death penalty is too serious a punishment.
#5. It doesn’t deter crime
The fact that it doesn’t prevent crime may be the most significant reason why the death penalty is wrong. Many people might believe that while the death penalty isn’t ideal, it’s worth it if it dissuades potential criminals. However, polls show people don’t think capital punishment does that. The facts support that view. The American South has the highest murder rate in the country and oversees 81% of the nation’s executions. In states without the death penalty, the murder rate is much lower. There are other factors at play, but the fact remains that no studies show that capital punishment is a deterrent. If the death penalty is not only inhumane, discriminatory, and arbitrary, but it often claims innocent lives and doesn’t even prevent crime, then why should it still exist? It’s disappearing from legal systems around the world, so it’s time for all nations (like the United States) to end it.