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Is It Ever Justifiable To Execute Criminals Essay

Can Capital Punishment Be Justified? Essay

Can Capital Punishment be justified?

In this day and age it is quite common for young men to carry knives and other weapons. In spite of police campaigns to educate people against carrying weapons there has been a significant increase in the deaths of young British males. Often an argument may become heated, weapons are pulled put with tragic consequences.

As well as carrying knives it has become increasingly common, particularly in the English inner cities where the rug culture is prevalent for young, mainly black males to carry guns for reasons of status and protection. When one of their own is killed this is tragic enough but it is even more upsetting to the public at large when innocent bystanders are killed. this was highlighted by the case at new year when two innocent young teenage girls were shot in a gang shooting in England.

As the culture of carrying weapons increases, some sections of the population believe we should follow the American example of having a death penalty for murder. Although the American example has compelling evidence to support it, it would take a change in parliament's attitude before the death penalty was introduced here. The last time there was a vote on this issue in the Houses of Parliament, a majority of MP's voted against it.

However in my opinion Capital punishment is necessary in order for justice to prevail. Capital punishment is the execution of criminals for committing crimes, regarded so bad that this is the only acceptable punishment. Capital punishment lowers the murder rate, but its value as retribution alone is a good reason for handing out death sentences. It is one of the only fair punishments allowed by the judicial system. Another issue is that it saves money compared to the alternative of life in prison.

The death penalty deters murder and prevents murderers from killing again by putting the fear of death in to would be killers. A person is less likely to do something, if he or she thinks that harm will come to him. Another way the death penalty may help deter murder is the fact that if the killer is death, he or she will not be able to kill again....

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The execution, by hanging, of Yakub Memon for his part in the 2003 Mumbai bombings invites us to revisit the vexed issue of capital punishment. Few topics incite such moral passion and controversy.

The world’s religious communities are divided on the death penalty. Despite a seemingly unambiguous commitment to non-violence (or “Ahimsa”) in both Hinduism and Buddhism, scholars within those traditions continue to debate the permissibility of lethal punishment. The Old Testament enjoins us to take an “eye for an eye” – the principle of lex talionis – while the New Testament exhorts us to “turn the other cheek”. And while Islam is generally regarded as compatible with the death penalty, the Qur'an’s emphasis on forgiveness suggests that Muslims should sometimes respond to evil with mercy, not retaliation.

While many European countries urge an ethic of rehabilitation in their criminal justice systems, many jurisdictions in the United States stand firmly in favour of capital punishment for serious crimes. Even a federal jury in Massachusetts, a liberal bastion, recently doled out the death penalty to the sole surviving perpetrator of the Boston marathon bombing. And while the United Kingdom abandoned the death penalty in 1964 – the year of the last executions – nearly half of the British public favours a reintroduction of it (though that figure has been dropping steadily).

We will not make progress in the public debate about the death penalty unless we realise that it is only one element in a much bigger controversy: about the point of punishment itself. As The Conversation invites us to rethink the death penalty over the next few weeks, we must not conduct this discussion in a vacuum. Before you ask yourself whether we should have the death penalty, consider: why hand out any punishments at all? Considering the three main families in the philosophy of punishment can help us organise our conversation.


“Bad guys deserve to suffer.” This is a blunt slogan, but it captures the essence of a deeply familiar notion: people who have committed culpable wrongs deserve their lives to go worse as a result. Why do they deserve it? Perhaps because it’s not fair for the lives of wrongdoers to go well when the lives of the innocent have gone poorly – punishment levels the playing field. Whatever the reason, “retributivists” – those who believe in retribution – argue that the punishment of criminals is intrinsically valuable; it is valuable in and of itself, rather than valuable because of its good consequences (for example, preventing future crime).

Even if punishing murderers and thieves had no effect on reducing the overall crime rate, retributivists tend to think it’s still the right thing to do. Retributivists also think that the severity of punishment should match the severity of the crime. So, just as it is wrong to over-punish someone (executing someone for stealing a pair of shoes), it can be wrong to under-punish someone (giving him a community service order for murder).

If you are a retributivist, you might support the death penalty because you think that certain or all murderers (and perhaps other criminals) deserve to suffer death for their crimes. Depending on how you think about death, however, you might oppose the death penalty on the grounds that it is disproportionately harsh – perhaps you think that no matter what someone has done, she does not deserve to die for it.

On the other hand you might oppose the death penalty on the grounds that it is disproportionately light. Many people who opposed the recent death sentence for the Boston bomber did so on the grounds that life in a maximum-security prison would be a worse punishment – and so more fitting – than death.


“Criminals should be punished so that they and others will be less likely to commit crime in the future, making everybody safer.” Many people criticise retributivism on the grounds that it is nothing but a pointless quest for barbaric revenge.

Inflicting suffering on human beings, if it is to be morally justified, must instead have a forward-looking purpose: protecting the innocent from harm. If this sounds sensible to you, you probably believe the point of punishment is not retribution, but rather deterrence.

The idea here is familiar enough: people face temptations to break just laws; the demands of morality and the demands of rational self-interest sometimes seem to diverge. Threats of punishment realign those demands by making it irrational for self-interested individuals to break the law.

If you are a defender of deterrence, you must answer two questions about capital punishment before determining where you stand. The first is empirical: a question about real-world facts. Does the threat of the death penalty actually deter people from committing heinous crimes to a greater extent than the threat of life imprisonment?

The second question is moral. Even if the death penalty deterred crime more successfully than life imprisonment, that doesn’t necessarily mean it would be justified. After all, imagine if we threatened execution for all crimes, including minor traffic violations, theft, and tax fraud.

Doing so would surely slash the crime rate, yet most people would judge it to be wrong. Deterrence theorists tend to defend some upper limit on the harshness of punishment – and it may be that death simply goes beyond what the government is ever permitted to threaten.


“Punishment communicates to criminals that what they have done is wrong, and gives them an opportunity to apologise and reform.” There are many different variants of this view: educative, communicative, rehabilitative – and there are important differences between them. But the basic idea is that punishment should make the wrongdoer understand what he or she has done wrong and inspire her to repent and reform.

Whatever version of this view one supports, its implication for the death penalty is reasonably clear. What is the point of a criminal reforming herself as she prepares for the execution chamber?

To be sure, many people try to mix and match different elements of these three broad views, though such mixed theories tend to be unhelpfully ad hoc and can offer conflicting guidance. Far better, to my mind, to plant one’s flag clearly and answer the question: which view should have priority in our thinking about punishment?

Then, and only then, can we proceed to think about the justice (or lack thereof) of governments who kill their citizens.

This article is part of a series on capital punishment that The Conversation is publishing. Click here to read more.