The Death Penalty: A Sociological Exploration and Analysis Essay

One of the most important questions with regards to the field of sociology is with respect to how individuals within society value and esteem the rights of others. Crime and punishment has been a reality of the human condition since the very first humans began to interact with one another. Whereas society and civilization has increased an order of magnitude over the past few centuries, one of the means by which the approach to crime and punishment has been questioned is with regards to whether or not capital punishment is morally reprehensible or should be accepted as the ultimate solution for some of the most heinous crimes. The reason that capital punishment represents the social problem is due to the fact that it is both something that is potentially morally wrong and a reaction to crime that has statistically been proven to be ineffective in reducing criminal activity with regards to the specific crimes that incurred the death penalty. As a function of this two-pronged approach, the following analysis will seek to provide the reader with a more profound understanding with regards to the determinants of morality and efficacy that the death penalty ultimately portends. It is the hope of this author that such an analysis will be useful in seeking to understand some of the sociological changes with respect to the death penalty which had been instituted within the past several decades around the globe.

Firstly, activists that oppose the death penalty promote the understanding that the death penalty is merely a form of empty retribution. What is meant by this is the fact that compelling statistics, compiled by a litany of different researchers, indicate that the death penalty is entirely ineffective with regards to deterring capital crime (Worthen et al., 2014). An analysis of states within the United States that employ the death penalty as compared to those that do not, do not exhibit a market differentiation between the overall level and numbers of these crimes committed. On the other hand, activists on the far right of the political spectrum oftentimes promote the belief that the death penalty is morally commanded and should be employed as a means of providing a degree of restitution and closure to the family members who have had others taken from them in such gruesome a manner (Asai & Maki, 2011). Although there is a degree of psychological evidence that closure can be achieved through the application of the death penalty, such a construct does not justify the taking of life; at least in the view of this author as a result of the research which has been conducted.

As a direct result of the discomfort that many within society feel with regards to the death penalty, measures to remove the death penalty from many of the criminal justice systems around the United States, and around the world for that matter, have recently been noted. Within the past 40 years, the death penalty has ceased to exist within Western and Central Europe. By the same token, even moderately developed nations within South America and Africa have similarly outlawed the application of the death penalty; deeming it as ruthless and potentially able to take the life of an innocent individual through the fault of an ineffective justice system (Burt, 2011). This necessarily brings the reader to a comprehension of the moral imperatives that the death penalty poses. Said one analyst, “There is no such thing as a truly perfect criminal justice system; at least as far as the determination of the sentence of death is concerned” (Rottenberg, 2005, pg. 4).

This also poses a direct hardship to the individual juror and can be a moral issue that they struggle with for the remainder of their lives. As several scholars have noted, even though it is morally reprehensible to sentence an individual to a lifetime behind bars, it is far more morally reprehensible to send it is an individual to death with even the slightest chance that the person who is believed to have committed the crime may be innocent. Critics of the death penalty also promote the understanding that a further level of moral and social culpability that is oftentimes not considered is with regards to the actual prison workers who are responsible for carrying out such actions. Even though it may seem as if these workers have solved themselves of moral responsibility as a function of their civil servant status, even a cursory review of such a statement reveals its inherent flaw. Accordingly, the individuals who are responsible for carrying out these death sentences oftentimes face a situation in which they are psychologically traumatized and become insensitive with regards to human life and death as time progresses. Ultimately, this has far-reaching impacts with regards to those that they love, their families, friends, and anyone that they interact with in society (Edelman, 2006). In such a manner, the broad ranging impacts of this death penalty are not only impacted with regards to those who are sentenced to death, the jurors, their families, but also those who are responsible for carrying out the sentences and anyone that they might come in contact within society.

The core realization that the reader is likely to draw is conteingent upon the fact that the death penalty represents one of the few acations in criminal justice from whence there is no means of reversal. The finality of this penalty has encouraged many nations to remove the death penalty from the available options that the criminal justice system has to choose from. The underlying reason for such an action is predicated upon the fact that the process itself is imperfect and has been proven to exhibit key shortcomings (Kaplan, 2013). Whereas this is very much the case with all forms of punishment, due to human error, the finality of capital punishment should cause the societal stakeholder to pause for a reflective moment with respect to the fact that once a life is taken, no matter the preponderance of new evidence that might be presented, there is no way to exhonerate or otherwise rehabilitate the person that has been killed by the state. For such a reason, many of the most developed nations throughout the world have ceased to implement the death penalty as it necessarily creates too wide a margin of error to be accepted by many of these societies.

Those that argue against this punishment can point to the inconsistency in application, the failure of absolute proof, and the high cost of implementation as a vital reason for why the death penalty is no longer appropriate for consideration. Moreover, the reality of the fact is that the death penalty is not effective in reducing overall rates of violent crimes; as a litany of statistics within nations that still implement it attest to. From such an understanding, one is left to realize that the death penalty exists solely as a type of procedural and judicial legacy; much as do a litany of laws and standards throughout the globe. However, rather than just representing a legacy that some individuals are reticent to let go of, the death penalty is inherently cruel in that it oftentimes is employed by nations around the globe in a manner that is very un-humanitarian (Mendoza-de Jesus, 2010). Recent examples in Texas and elsewhere of individuals writhing on the gurney for minutes after they were supposed to be put to death serve as a painful reminder of the fact that even though it might be attractive to understand existing technology as efficient and humane, there is still no way to dispose of human life in a guaranteed painless manner. Because of this drawback and many others, it is the belief of this author that the process of the death penalty should be halted and a careful reconsideration for the reasons why such a penalty exists in the first place must be engaged; not only in the minds of individuals in charge of the judiciary but in the minds and hearts of stakeholders within the societies that have previously supported it. Said one analyst, “The hardships caused by the death penalty, coupled with the blindness of the criminal justice system alone, are adequate reasons to halt the practice entirely” (Lane, 2014 p. 1).

From the evidence that has been presented, it is the belief of this author that the death penalty is ultimately a social construct that society could well do without. Moreover, due to the fact that so many societies around the globe have come to this conclusion, it only stands to reason that the remainder of the states within the United States would do well to consider such a stance as well. However, it is difficult to come to a determinant and clear moral stance on the issue due to the fact that direct exposure to the death penalty, it’s need, the bills that it may have upon society, the impacts that it may have with regards to the jurors seeking to implement it, and/or the far-reaching impacts upon those who are tasked with carrying it out is ultimately something that cannot be researched in order to be inferred. Rather, it must be experienced. From the information that is thus far been presented, it can clearly be understood that the benefits of the death penalty are far outweighed by its drawbacks.


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Kaplan, AB 2013, 'OREGON'S DEATH PENALTY: THE PRACTICAL REALITY', Lewis & Clark Law Review, 17, 1, pp. 1-68, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 6 May 2014.

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