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Key Assessment Reading – “On Capital Punishment” by Darlene Hall

Key Assessment
Part One
1. Read the Key Assessment Reading on page two.
2. Identify one or two arguments made in the text.
3. Give one or two examples of assumptions made in the text. In addition, do you bring any assumptions to judging these arguments?
4. What are the implications or consequences of the arguments? Consider the ethical issues involved.
5. What are the contradictions in language, data, and images? Give an example.
6. What mistakes in reasoning and logic are made in any of the arguments? Give an example.
7. Are the sources credible and accurate? Why or why not?
8. Do you have any questions for the text/characters in the text?
Part Two
Construct an argument, following the format you have learned in your Critical Thinking class this semester.
• Be brief
• Use reasons
• Identify the implications, consequences, and ethical issues involved
• Ask two questions about your argument
You may choose to use any topic, or you may use or respond to the topic from Part One, or you may use a topic from your Critical Thinking class this term.
Key Assessment Reading – “On Capital Punishment” by Darlene Hall
The subject of the death penalty is an emotionally charged topic today. Pro-life, religious, and minority groups have raised a flag and begun to try to educate Americans from an emotional point of view, in hopes of strengthening the numbers against the death penalty. A Gallup Poll taken in September 1994 reported that 80% of those who responded were for the death penalty, so admittedly, the previously mentioned groups have a long hard road in front of them (CQ Researcher, 1995).
These groups are using arguments that capital punishment is morally wrong and discriminates against certain classes of people. I would offer that it is hard to win an argument purely on emotional terms and that the area of effectiveness should be explored. From a quantitative point of view, the death penalty is an ineffective means of deterring crime and lends little emotional relief to families or loved ones of the crime victims. As Justice Harry Blackman stated, “The death-penalty experiment has failed” (Economist, 1995). …There needs to be more public education of capital punishment from a quantitative point of view. Basically, it’s a costly and very time-consuming way of accomplishing very little. Therefore, it becomes a debate of efficiency and morality.
Cesare Beccaria, a criminologist, once stated, “A punishment, to be just, should have only that degree of severity which is sufficient to deter others” (CQ Researcher, 1995). In other words, what is the benefit to society when a punishment does not prevent the recurrence of such an event? The death penalty, seen by some to be the most severe of punishments, has not effectively lowered the crime rate associated with these types of crimes. Statistics show the crime rate has actually increased overall since 1998. Admittedly, the last couple of years have stabilized or dropped slightly, but there are many statistics that could be causing this slight decrease. For instance, you could just as easily relate the drop in crime rates to the fact that educational enrollment is rising both at the primary and higher education levels (Conditions of Education, 1998). Even though we have seen a slight drop in the crime crate in the last couple of years, it is a fact that over 40% of the increase in the prison population since 1980 is due to prisoners convicted of violent crimes (Bureau of Justice Statistics).
Considering the number of prisoners on death row and the sparse few that ever get executed, it is not hard to imagine the costs associated with this process. In California, the state with the largest number of prisoners on death row, $90 million is spent annually above and beyond ordinary costs of the justice system. Additionally, the most comprehensive study in the country found that the death penalty costs North Carolina, with the fifth highest number of prisoners on death row, $2.16 million per execution OVER the costs of a non-death penalty murder case with a sentence of imprisonment for life (Duke University, 1993). Lastly, in Texas (the state with the second highest number of prisoners on death row) death penalty cases cost an average of $2.3 million, which is three times the cost for imprisoning someone in a single cell at the highest security level for 40 years. If we relate this number on a nation-wide basis, this figure translates to an extra $900 million spent since 1976 on the death penalty (Death Penalty Information Center). I provide these examples to demonstrate just how much the death penalty costs our country. It is clear the death penalty is costing the country hundreds of millions of dollars for very little in return.
Many polls have been taken in the United States concerning capital punishment. It is true that when polled the majority of the country is in favor of the death penalty, but could that be the case because they see no other viable alternative offered? When a national poll of 386 police chiefs and sheriffs was conducted, the death penalty was ranked as the least cost-effective way of reducing violent crimes. One of the reasons for their skepticism about the usefulness of the death penalty is the never-ending list of homicides (CG Researcher, 1995). When people polled are given other alternatives to the death penalty, such as life without parole plus restitution to the victim’s family, the number in favor of the death penalty drops significantly. In fact, it is less than 50% (Death Penalty Information Center). Again, public education related to this process is required, as well as a restructuring of our penal system before anyone not familiar with it can make a clear commitment to be for or against.

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