Is the Death Penalty a Deterrent of Heinous Crimes to Society?

Is the death penalty a deterrent of heinous crimes to society? Putting people to death that have been judged by their peers to have committed certain extremely heinous crimes is a practice of ancient standing, but in the United States in the last part of the twentieth century, it has become a very controversial issue. Changing views on this difficult issue and the many legal challenges to capital punishment working their way through the courts resulted in halting all executions in the United States in 1967.

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Eventually, the Supreme Court placed a moratorium on capital punishment in 1972 but later upheld it in 1977. Restoring capital punishment is the will of the people, and yet many voices are raised against it. Heated public debate centers mostly on questions of deterrence, public safety, sentencing equity and the executions of the wrongly accused. One argument states that the death penalty does not deter murder. Dismissing capital punishment on that basis requires us to eliminate all prisons as well because they do not seem to be any more effective in the deterrence of crime.

Others say that states which do have the death penalty have higher crime rates than those that do not, and that a more severe punishment only inspires more severe crimes. Every state is different such as population, number of cities and the crime rates. Strongly urbanized states usually have higher crime rates than the more rural states, such as those states that lack capital punishment. The states that have capital punishment are compelled to have it due to their due to their higher crime rates, and not the other way around.

Proponents against the death penalty also hold the notion that criminals do not fear death because they do not take time to think about the consequences of their crimes. If that were true, one would have to think how police officers manage to arrest criminals without killing them. If a police officer holds a criminal at gunpoint and tells them to get on the ground, the criminal will comply fully in the vast majority of these cases. It would also make you wonder why they would do that unless they were afraid of the lethal power of the gun.

Regardless of what the proponents against capital punishment claim, criminals are not immune to fear. It is a common misconception to believe that fear is a thought process that has to be worked out with a piece of paper. It is an instinct that automatically kicks in when one is faced with lethal force. During the temporary suspension of capital punishment from 1972-1976, researchers compiled murder statistics across the country. In 1960, there were 56 executions in the United States and 9,140 murders. By 1964, when there were only 15 executions, the number of murders had risen to 9,250.

In 1969, there were no executions and 14,590 murders, and 1975 after six more years without executions, 20,510 murders occurred rising to 23,040 in 1980 after only 2 executions since 1976. In summarizing these statistics, between 1965 and 1980, the number of annual murders in the United States skyrocketed from 9,960 to 23,040, a 131 percent increase. The most striking protection of innocent life has been seen in Texas, which executes more murderers than any other state. The Texas murder rate in 1991 was 15. 3 percent per 100,000.

By 1999, it had fallen to 6. 1 percent, a drop of 60 percent. Within Texas, the most aggressive death penalty prosecutions are in Harris County ( the Houston area). Since the resumption of executions in 1982, the annual number of Harris County murders has dropped from 701 to 241 a 72 percent decrease. Several studies have been performed within the last six years that show the death penalty does in fact act as a deterrent to murder. These analysts count that between three and 18 lives would be saved by the execution of each convicted murderer.

These studies are among a dozen papers since 2001 that the death penalty has a deterrent effect. In the 1800’s, in English occupied India, there was one of the worst gangs of murdering thieves the world has ever known, the Indian hoodlum band known as the Thuggees. Through the course of their existence, dating back to the 1550’s, the Thuggee’s were credited with murdering more than 2 million people, mostly wealthy travelers. The killer secret society plagued India for more than 350 years. The Thuggee’s traveled in gangs, sometimes disguised as poor beggars.

Sometimes they wore the clothes of rich merchants to get closer to unsuspecting victims. One of their principals was to never spill blood, so they always strangled their victims. Each member was required to kill at least once a year to maintain their membership in the cult. They claimed to kill in the name of religion. The deaths were conceived as human sacrifices to Kali, the blood thirsty Hindustani goddess of destruction. The thuggee’s began to use pickaxes and knives on their victims. According to legend, Thuggee’s believed that Kali devoured the bodies of their victims.

The story goes that once a member of the society hid behind a tree to spy on the goddess. The angry goddess punished the Thuggee’s by making them bury their victims from there on. The ruling British government worked very hard to stop the Thuggee religion and it’s murderous practices. Between 1829 and 1848, the British managed to suppress the Thuggee’s by mass arrests and speedy executions. Rows and rows of Thuggee’s were left hanging from the gallows along the roads by the dozens. This not only established a zero tolerance rate , but it also discouraged new membership into the cult.

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