Death Penalty: Social Attitudes Term Paper

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[. . .] The law of God is "Thou shalt not kill," and every system of ethics and code of morals echoes this injunction.

Capital punishment has demonstrably failed to accomplish its stated objectives. In that it neither deters nor prevents recurrent crime.

Capital punishment in the United States has been and is prejudicially and inconsistently applied, in that a vast majority of those executed belong to one racial minority.

The innocent have been executed.

There are effective alternative penalties, and the argument that the only option is no punishment is fallacious.

Police and prison officers are safer in non-death penalty states, and as a result, prison wardens overwhelmingly support abolition of the death penalty. (Taken from MacNamara, 1961)

Mac Namara's final reasons include questionable data, but as can be seen from this list, there is extensive social basis for entering into a new understanding of the validity of capital punishment.

From a religious perspective, many ministers have come out against the death penalty on the basis of other biblical references, and a more socialized interpretation of the message of religious groups. The heart of their message is to believe in the ability of every man to change, and the universal application of the goodness and forgiveness of god. These groups oppose capital punishment as an unjust action, and as the actions of an extreme justice system, not as an act which is based on religious ethics. In this statement, a number of religious organizations formalized their religious opposition to the death penalty.

Because the Christian wholeheartedly supports the emphasis in modern penology upon the process of creative, redemptive rehabilitation rather than on punitive and primitive retribution, and Because the deterrent effects of capital punishment are not supported by available evidence, and Because the death penalty tends to brutalize the human spirit and the society which condones it, and Because human agencies of legal justice are fallible, permitting the possibility of the executing of the innocent,

We, therefore, recommend the abolition of capital punishment and the re-evaluation of the parole system relative to such cases. (Friends Conference, 1961)

Deterrence

Retribution for crime against the criminal no longer plays the predominant role it once did. In the past, the criminal faces a sure and swift execution of the punishment enacted against them, and when a potential criminal knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that action A would lead to Reaction B, then the person was likely to allow reaction B. To influence their actions. However, in the America's modern justice system which grinds ever so slowly, the reaction B. can be removed, or even eliminated from the causal events by years. In this case, in which the potential criminal has no assurance of punishment, he feels no deterrence. Unfortunately, the effect of this slow process is that deterrence is all but removed from the concept of capital punishment.

As a result, what remains behind the penal system is the public's demand for vengeance against criminals. At a more elevated level, the collective expression of moral indignation for the offenders' crime is a social upheaval which gives members a sense of release. But this is far different from deterring the crime.

In a passage in the literature on capital punishment, Sir James Fitzjames Stephen (1883) wrote:

It is highly desirable that criminals should be hated, that punishments inflicted upon them should be so contrived as to give expression to that hatred, and to justify it so far as the public provision of means for expressing and gratifying a healthy natural sentiment can justify and encourage it... When a man is hung, there is an end of our relations with him. His execution is a way of saying, "You are not fit for this world, take your chance elsewhere."

His candor catches the crown mentality at the peak of its fervor. Vengeance, unredeemed by any higher sentiments or lofty rhetoric, is unmistakable and often the only easily identifiable factor in the prosecution of a capital sentence. No one can study the testimony offered at legislative hearings on abolishing the death penalty, or listen to the debates when such bills are up for consideration, and have any doubt that the right to vengeance is believed to justify capital punishment. This may be that the right to vengeance is the only clearly identifiable factor which is anchored to the modern practice. No one will dispute that capital punishment is an excellent form of retributive punishment, at least for the crime of murder, but the ongoing problem for society is whether or not we want to be known as a society which seeks vengeance, and calls it justice.

But the main focus of discussion, whether in the legislature, before popular audiences, or in scholarly reports, is the efficacy of the death penalty as a preventative of crime. There are two ways in which a punishment may be used to prevent crime.

It may be used to incapacitate known offenders, either absolutely (by killing them) or relatively (by incarcerating them), thereby preventing them from committing any more offenses.

A punishment may be intended to prevent known offenders from committing further crimes by correcting them through a program of detention, education and therapy-what is popularly called "reformation" or "rehabilitation." (Bedau, 1964)

Obviously, the death penalty cannon be used in the latter fashion.

Restorative Justice

The problem of deterrence, and the other values which are looked for, but not found thorough capital punishment is that the hoped for outcomes are not present.

The death penalty was nearly universally agreed upon when society as a whole could see the criminal, see the conviction and then see the punishment carried out. In a sense of social justice, the connection between the events holds a certain balance. However, the death penalty is a high cost event. It exacts the ultimate cost from the criminal, and a high socio-emotional cost from society. In the case of modern use of capital punishment, the disconnect between causal action and final reaction has called into question the entire practice.

As an alternative to capital punishment, restorative justice is based on the following basic values, which were presented by Connie Williams to the National Institution of Corrections Teleconference on Restorative Justice, December 12, 1996. These principles are:

Crime is an offense against humans and their relationships.

Victims and the community are both central to the justice process.

The first priority of the justice system should be to assist victims.

The second priority is to restore the community, to the degree that is possible.

The offender has personal responsibility to victims and to the community for crimes he's committed.

The individual, the community and the criminal are all stakeholders, and share responsibilities for Restorative Justice through partnerships for action.

The offender will develop improved competency (experience a measure of rehabilitation) and understanding of the consequences of his personal behaviors as a result of the Restorative Justice experience.

Restorative Justice (RJ) therefore seeks an intellectual and sociologically-based solution to the criminal behavior, rather than an emotional approach to criminal justice, or a retributive experience. RJ is an avenue of reform that is comparable to an infant in its maturation. The infant child is incapable of certain activities which children just a few years older can perform. RJ starts from a perspective which is mutually agreed upon by many, that the offender is not able to function in civil society. So, rather than lock the offender away for his learned criminal behavior, and thus further educate him the in the criminal mindset, RJ seeks to engage the criminal in the sociological process which will create the development which can equip the person to grow beyond his or her criminal behavior into socially appropriate behaviors.

At the core of this model is the need for the offender to demonstrate his acknowledgement of responsibility by engaging actions to repair the damage that he has created. By showing responsibility for behavior, and working to correct the damage, the offender engages the process which can enact social transformation.

Restorative justice is often a reform movement calling for changes in the criminal justice domain that place greater emphasis on communication and reconciliation between victim, offender, and community rather than limiting the criminal justice process to incarcerating the offender. In North America, the current restorative justice movement is the product of informal justice experiments in the 1970s, and such as victim-offender reconciliation and neighborhood justice programs. RJ reflects the frustration with mainstream criminal justice experienced by victim's rights groups, prison reformers, and other activists who seek to change the criminal justice system, but have not demonstrated any appreciable benefits. (Braithwaite, 2002)

Social activists who were frustrated with the dominant incarceration and retributive models began to call for a new "lens" (Zehr, 1990) through which persistent problems like recidivism, victim dissatisfaction, and punitive ness on the part of the public might be seen in a different light. Howard Zehr and other early proponents of restorative justice argued that the… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Death Penalty: Social Attitudes.  (2004, May 14).  Retrieved February 20, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/death-penalty-social-attitudes/3602173

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