Death Penalty Conclusion: Capital Punishment Is Irrational

Death Penalty Conclusion: Capital Punishment Is Irrational April 24, 2019

In this series debunking the reasons to support the death penalty, we’ve looked at:

We know that the death penalty is ineffective as a deterrent. We know that capital punishment costs significantly more than life in prison, drawing funds from law enforcement and victims services. We know that there is no way to humanely kill a person who does not want to die. We also know it doesn’t bring closure and there is evidence that even some of the most hardened killers have been rehabilitated enough that their lives behind bars add value to the world. It can bring suffering to innocent parties in the form of trauma, depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts in corrections officers, wardens, journalists covering the cases and in the loved ones of the offender. In my previous series about wrongful convictions, we also learned that innocent men and women have likely been executed for crimes they did not commit.

What we haven’t covered is the notion of vengeance. In 2015, it feels wrong, barbaric and backwards to have to cover it, but just a few days ago, someone on Twitter asserted that it’s the best reason to support the death penalty. Even in spite of all its other shortcomings.

I can understand supporting the death penalty if you mistakenly thought it was cheaper, or if you truly believed it would bring comfort and solace to a murder victim’s family. I could understand supporting the death penalty because you firmly believe it deters enough people from killing to justify taking a life. I could understand all of these reasons, though I would disagree with you. The one reason I cannot understand is vengeance.

If your sole reason for supporting the death penalty is to satiate your own anger, then you have no right to call yourself a rational person.

Is it rational to value an emotional response over the facts? Is it rational to victimize a second innocent family? Is it rational to force hardworking men and women into a position where they must take a life? A position that will likely result in post-traumatic stress? Is it rational to spend so much money on this emotional response that the funding for victim’s services, education, police, fire, ambulance and health care is depleted? Is it rational to lead a murder victim’s family to believe this solution will make them feel better when in reality, it does no such thing?

The answer is no. It’s not rational. It’s emotional, and while I can hardly blame the family or loved ones of a murder victim for responding emotionally, the law should not. The law should always be based on rational, evidence-based reasoning. This is why secularists exist. This is why the separation of church and state is such a valuable idea. We want our laws to reflect reality. We want our laws to prevent more people from becoming the victims of crime, and if the law can’t do that, at the very least, it should not be creating more victims unnecessarily. I think that is the very least we should be expecting from the law.

My biggest problem with supporters of the death penalty and most of the law that exists today is that they’re reactive when they should be proactive. Instead of waiting for someone to get killed and then reacting, we should proactively be working towards serious measures that will prevent murders from taking place in the first place. Measures such as a more effective and valued mental health system. There should be more power and jurisdiction given to child protective services and domestic violence prevention. Children who are observed acting like bullies or being bullied themselves at school should be given access to programs that will engage their mind in a positive way, and to counsellors who don’t just go through the motions to fulfil their job description. More money should be spent on education and teachers should be trained in conflict resolution, and how to actually engage young minds rather than just lecture them from the front of the room. More after-school programs suited to at-risk youth should be implemented. Prison sentences for nonviolent, victimless drug crimes should be completely eliminated as sending a teenager or young adult to prison will only work to harden them. Post-secondary education should be free and easily accessed by all, like many European countries. Veterans returning from war should be fully supported on the state’s dime and given plenty of access to mental health services, rehabilitation programs and medical assistance. Signs of an unhealthy mind should be taught to everyone, who then have the opportunity to seek real and effective help for their family and loved ones who may be at risk of offending before they actually hurt anyone. Finally, people who have been diagnosed as mentally ill with an affliction known to cause violence, should not have sole custody of children until they seek help and stick with it. People with a history of violent offences should not have custody of children. Parents involved in repeated domestic abuse reports should not have custody of children. Addicts should not have custody of children until they are sober.

Whenever I suggest these things, someone inevitably pipes up with, “but, Godless Mom, people can still slip through the system unnoticed and end up killing. It won’t stop all killers!”, and that’s correct. These measures won’t stop all killers. However, they will stop some, if not a majority, and that’s a whole lot better than waiting around for murder to happen so we can react.

Besides, these are just my ideas. I am sure there are plenty more preventative measures we can take that I have not thought of.

Now that you’ve read my entire series on the death penalty, do you still support it? Can you tell me why or why not in the comments? Have you thought of ways to prevent violent crime? Did any of you change your opinion in the course of reading these two series? Let me know!

In closing, I am going to list for you a series of documentaries that you should watch. If you have found my posts on this topic interesting, whether you are for or against the death penalty, these documentaries will interest you.

Into the Abyss, an objective look at the death penalty in Texas. This is one of the best films you will ever see in your life:

After Innocence follows men exonerated from death row as they try to get back to normal life:

At The Death House Door, a documentary about the chaplain on death row in Huntsville, Texas. This film will give you a better understanding of the effect the death penalty has on correctional staff. It will also shake you to your core. The trailer is below, but you can watch the full documentary by clicking here.:

If you want to work towards ending the death penalty, please consider supporting the following organizations:

If you like what I do here and want to support my work, you can donate here or become a patron here.

Image: Creative Commons/Pixabay

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Sam D

    Valuing anything isn’t rational; it’s emotional. Valuing human life – valuing my own life – isn’t rational. You have to start with irrational premises (such as: the information from my senses is accurate) before you continue with rational analysis of it (acting as if my senses are accurate usually leads to fulfillment of my desire to not feel pain, for example; sometimes optical illusions trick me). Vengeance being irrational doesn’t tell me anything. People not being as vengeful as death penalty proponents claim – that would be a worthwhile argument. Finding out that we really are that vengeful as a culture – but we can change the culture – that won’t change with reason, but with appeals to emotion from an early age. We can test how vengeful we are, and we can survey to find how vengeful we want to be. We can point out that the death penalty is inefficient and poorly directed and therefore doesn’t give vengeance.

    Death penalty proponents aren’t arguing:
    P1

    P2

    Therefore we want vengeance.

    They’re arguing:
    P1 We want vengeance.
    P2 Death is a satisfactory/the only satisfactory/the most satisfactory vengeance.
    Therefore death penalty.

  • In the Abrahamic tradition, what passes for “justice” is substantially about vengeance and punishment. It’s written right into the words and actions of its god. For thousand of years, Abrahamic cultures have structured their law around brutal and draconian punishment, for even trivial offenses. As most western nations have moved away from religion, they have also moved away from vengeance driven legal systems and towards correction. Except, of course, in America, where we retain a strong streak of our Christian roots which comes out in a drive towards extreme punishment… including state executions.

  • Anthrotheist

    I just finished binge reading this series of posts, and I liked it a lot. One of the things that stuck with me was in one of the videos where a former executioner asked a crowd who supported the death penalty, to which several people stood up; when he asked how many people would be willing to be the executioner, nobody stood. The death penalty seems to me to be very similar to America’s spiritual notion of Karma: everyone gets what they deserve (as opposed to the actual Hindu caste system’s Karma, which is far more complex and oppressive).

    So it seems natural for people to want a murderer to get what they deserve, and our long history of reciprocal vengeance makes that an eye-for-an-eye solution. However, nobody wants to do the deed themselves, and if pressed would likely be unwilling to press someone else into doing it on their behalf. They want the universe to punish the murderer, but since the universe never appears to do so, they insist that the State has to do the universe’s job for it. It seems to me to be a lot of mixed up and muddied magical thinking ending in a horrifically flawed social program of ritualized human sacrifice in a misguided attempt to reassure ourselves that we live in a naturally just world.

  • Valuing anything isn’t rational; it’s emotional.

    While you could make the case that everything is emotional if you get sufficiently reductionist, I’d say that from a practical standpoint, there are many things we value for highly rational reasons. We value certain foods over others because it is more healthy. We value certain policies over others because they benefit more people. We value choices that lead to better outcomes. We value leaders who achieve goals we support. These are valuations that depend upon rational analysis, even if there’s some sort of underlying subjective element, like “I want to be healthy”.

  • Sam D

    I absolutely agree, and I should have added something to the effect of separating end goals as premises and supplementary goals we can use reason to achieve. Thank you for fixing it for me. I’m sure many people have vengeance as each type of goal.

  • Either abolish it or reserve it for those who commit truly heinous crimes like genocide.

  • Flint8ball

    I support capital punishment on the basis of cost. Admittedly not how it’s currently structured. We spend too much money on incarceration and legal procedure. I’d like to see the death penalty timing streamlined. I acknowledge that there are false convictions and that is unfortunate to say the least. In summary, I’m a cold hearted bastard, but that’s my take. It basically falls in line with my distaste for government spending (and overreach – which is not my primary concern in this instance).

  • Edward Silha

    Execution is irrevocable. It does not allow for mistakes for if a mistake has occurred prior to the execution but has not been detected until after the execution, there is no means of correcting the resultant wrong.
    Life imprisonment enables some amelioration of errors. The temporary loss of freedom by a wrongly convicted person cannot be replaced, but some monetary compensation can be provided.
    Life imprisonment gives allows a perpetrator of a crime time to consider his actions.
    Some recognize their errors and attempt to make reparations to the victims and/or society, achieve peace.
    Some never repent. However, they spend a long time without ever achieving peace (the vengeful should be satisfied with this, differed gratification rather than instant and short lived gratification).

  • Flint8ball

    My support of the death penalty has nothing to do with vengeance. If I were in the position, I would prefer death to life in prison. My stance is all about cost (if we could change the current cost/time structure).

  • John Do’h

    The death penalty should be abolished in a civilized society because executions are always very political and subjectively emotional. You don’t want your government to be in the business of deciding who to execute, or to get efficient at executions. Why? Just look at the past history of the death penalty and how unequally it has been administered. Look at executions now around the world, pretty horrible. The idea of a fair, rational, unemotional, and equally administered death penalty is mostly a fantasy. Society should not enjoy or feel satisfied by executions.

    Just say no to the death penalty. If guilty, why is making them the center of attention and ending their miserable life with an execution a worse punishment than letting them sit thru a miserable life ignored alone with their guilt?

  • Overall, good essay!

    CH1: We know that the death penalty is ineffective as a deterrent.

    GW1: I disagree. We know that the death penalty is effective as a deterrent when compared to no punishment at all or to “light” punishments.

    CH1: If your sole reason for supporting the death penalty is to satiate your own anger, then you have no right to call yourself a rational person.

    GW1: Vengeance is paying back harm which not only tends to satiate anger of victims and their associates but to influence the offender to resist committing the same crime in the future and to deter others. Satiating anger via the state imposing punishment also reduces vigilantism.

    CH1: Is it rational to lead a murder victim’s family to believe this solution will make them feel better when in reality, it does no such thing?

    GW1: But it will make them feel better to some extent. Not all better, but somewhat better.

    CH1: The answer is no. It’s not rational. It’s emotional, and while I can hardly blame the family or loved ones of a murder victim for responding emotionally, the law should not. The law should always be based on rational, evidence-based reasoning.

    GW1: But vengeance does work and it is rational. The only question of importance here is what the punishment of murder should be – death, life imprisonment, or a long term in prison? They are all based on the idea of vengeance. In a sense justice is just proportional, fair, and rational vengeance.

    CH1: Instead of waiting for someone to get killed and then reacting, we should proactively be working towards serious measures that will prevent murders from taking place in the first place.

    GW1: I agree, but that is not the point of your essay.

    CH1: Prison sentences for nonviolent, victimless drug crimes should be completely eliminated as sending a teenager or young adult to prison will only work to harden them.

    GW1: Not necessarily. It depends on how it is done. Besides, is selling a large quantity of illegal Fetanyl really a “nonviolent, victimless drug crime”?

    CH1: Now that you’ve read my entire series on the death penalty, do you still support it?

    GW1: I did not support the death penalty before your series and I do not support it after. You gave mostly good reasons to be against it, and you gave some bad reasons to be against it. I think you could get more people to support our position if you pointed out that the offender will suffer more via life imprisonment than by the death penalty.

  • Silverwolf13

    Any penalty is only a deterrent if the perp is likely to go to jail. In the US, you’re less likely to go to jail after committing a brutal murder than you are after being elected Governor of Illinois.

  • Isopod

    The Innocence Project makes for some interesting reading, too. People wrongfully convicted, and sometimes people plead guilt to the most heinous of crimes, when they are innocent. This project has saved a few prisoners on death row.

  • Jim Jones

    War crimes or terrorism.

  • Jim Jones

    > I support capital punishment on the basis of cost.
    It’s too expensive for most states, unless they cut corners on the trial and appeals. And usually even then.

  • Jim Jones

    If you think the courts are fair, Google Ethan Couch

    Then Google Leandro Andrade.

  • Christine Brean

    I liked your responses better than GMs!

  • Gary Whittenberger

    Thank you.

  • I removed nothing. You have a low rep on Discus, so it automatically holds your comments for approval.

  • Should be. I approved them.