By: Mariya Rasheva, JS Senior
Throughout history, governments have seen the death penalty as a powerful method of deterring crime. However, after the aftermath of the Second World War, some states changed their perspectives on this punishment. A large number of states, including the United States, agreed to follow the human rights standards set by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Although the Declaration is not a legally binding document, it expresses the basic ideals that the world holds for human rights that are “inherent to all human beings,” regardless of “nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status” as well as are “interrelated, interdependent and indivisible” (United Nations HROHCHR, 2013). Furthermore, the Declaration defines the right to life as one of the most fundamental human rights (UNAC, n.d.). Except for the United States and Japan, all Western states have abolished the death penalty or do not exercise it (Amnesty International, 2012). Although the United States has faced international pressure in regards to its continuing use of the death penalty, thirty-three U.S. states still practice it (Death Penalty Information Center, (2012). However, the United States should abolish the death penalty as it not only violates universal human rights norms, but also is expensive and ineffective deterrent.
By not abolishing the death penalty, the United States exemplifies that its stance that it is a protector of human rights is mere rhetoric. The United States was actively involved in drafting and securing adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 (Sears, n.d.). Although its world leadership in wide-spreading universal human rights norms, it still practices it at home. Moreover, it disrespects core human rights norms. For instance, Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person” (United Nations, n.d.). Thus, it does not matter if someone is a murderer. By retaining the death penalty, the United States is both denying individuals the fundamental human right to life and demonstrating a lack of respect for human life. Even though, Article 5 of the Declaration states that “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” the death penalty entails torture (United Nations, n.d.). The prison conditions for death row inmates and the execution are arguably mentally and physically cruel. The average death row inmates wait for execution over twenty years (ACLU, n.d.), “alone in solitary confinement, spending 23 hours a day in their cells” (Carter, 2008). Most of them develop severe psychological illnesses while waiting for their execution.
Although society considers lethal injection as the most humane form of execution, there is no way to know that the injection is painless. In fact some “executions have lasted between 20 minutes to over an hour and prisoners have been seen gasping for air, grimacing and convulsing during executions (Amnesty International USA, n.d.). Prolonged execution attempts are “cruel and unusual punishments (Cornell University Law School, n.d.). Though, the Supreme Court “has ruled that the death penalty is not a per se violation of the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment” (USLegal, n.d.). Therefore, the practice of death penalty within the United States represents a level of double standards regarding the United States’ international commitment to human rights and its practice. While at the international arena the United States is a leading proponent of human rights, domestically it continues to violate the most basic human right – the right to life. The death penalty should be abolished so that the United States is able to regain its world leadership as human rights defender as well as all Americans can have the right to life.
Moreover, the death penalty procedure is an expensive state policy. To ensure that innocent individuals are “not executed for crimes they did not commit,” the process of death penalty is complex, lengthy and time-consuming, and suspects life in prison with enhanced security for many decades (Death Penalty Focus, n.d.). Consequently, the death penalty is much more expensive than any other kind of criminal case. For instance, “housing prisoners on death row costs California tax payers an additional $90,000 per prisoner per year,” than life without parole (ACLU, n.d.). In other words, “California could save $1 billion over five years by replacing the death penalty with permanent imprisonment” (Death Penalty Focus, n.d.). The resources could be invested into solving other murders and preventing violence by creating programs and agencies that enhance public safety. The death penalty should be abolished not because of sympathy for criminals but because it costs a lot more to taxpayers than life without parole.
Furthermore, the death penalty does not reduce crime. Studies show “that the death penalty is no more effective than imprisonment in deterring murder and that it may even be an incitement to criminal violence. Death-penalty states as a group do not have lower rates of criminal homicide than non-death-penalty states” (ACLU, n.d.). In addition, “[d]eterrence is a function not only of a punishment’s severity, but also of its certainty and frequency (ACLU, n.d.). The death penalty “can be an effective deterrent only if it is consistently and promptly employed” (ACLU, n.d.). On the other side, if the death punishment procedure is accelerated, can one really be certain that all who have been sentenced guilty and executed were absolutely guilty? If later evidence proves that someone sentenced to death was wrongly convicted, the death penalty is irreversible. Thus, the death penalty should be abolished for its ineffectiveness in reducing crime and potential for wrongly convictions. Moreover, life without parole is a good alternative. Furthermore, “[e]xperts suggest that criminal behavior and the nation’s murder rate may best be curbed by addressing the environmental and social factors that contribute to violent crime” (Death Penalty Information Center, (n.d.). The death penalty can execute killers, but do not eliminate killing. The death penalty does not solve society’s crime problems. Improving the socioeconomic health of society does.
There is not a humane way to deprive another person of his or her life. The death penalty “is a relic of the earliest days of penology, when slavery, branding, and other corporal punishments were commonplace” and thus has “no place in a civilized society” (ACLU, n.d.). By abolishing the death penalty, the United States can demonstrate that the state values human life. Moreover, as a leading world power, the United States is able to set a positive example to other states that still practice the death penalty regarding strengthening universal commitment to human rights values.
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