Recently, the debate over the use of the death penalty has become highly contentious, and its use as a form of punishment has decreased across the nation (Katz, Livett and Shustorovich 318). For example, most of the executions that occurred during 2002 occurred in the South of the USA, with Texas accounting for three times as many executions as those carried out in the West, Midwest and Northeast altogether. Overall, most states did not use the death penalty during 2002. Currently, the debate focuses on the availability of empirical evidence, and discourse on ethics and morality, to determine whether the death penalty should, or should not, remain as a punishment alternative. This paper aims to review the arguments of the death penalty debate. Firstly, the arguments For the use of capital punishment shall be outlined. Secondly, the arguments Against the use of the death penalty shall be presented. Finally, a conclusion shall synthesize the main arguments and make recommendations for future research.
A dominant argument for the use of the death penalty is that the highest interest for a society is to prevent the deviant behavior of murder, and so the strongest punishment should be employed to deter the potential for murder to occur (Death Penalty Curricula for High School). According to this reasoning, the death of those who do commit murder will motivate other potential murderers to re-think their actions, as they will fear the loss of their own life. The arguments For the death penalty contend also, that although many studies show the results of the deterrent hypothesis to be inconclusive, that this may well be because the punishment is so infrequently used, due to the long process involved to actually carry out an execution (Katz, Livett and Shustorovich 318). It is postulated that the US states that utilize the death penalty would have much higher rates of murder if they did not use this form of punishment at all. Also, the arguments focus on the ability for capital punishment to deter those who are executed for murder, not only as a protection for the public, but also for other prisoners and staff who work within the prison system (Death Penalty Curricula for High School). Ultimately, it is contended, as a form of permanent incapacitation the death penalty aids in crime prevention and so the protection of society. An in-depth study by Isaac Ehlich is often pointed to as providing proof that murder rates change when there is the likelihood of losing one's life for the crime (Ehlich [a] 32). Ehlich concluded that as many as 7 or 8 murders were prevented through the use of capital punishment in the USA, during the period from 1933 to 1967 (Ehlich [b] 15). Furthermore, to support Ehlich's findings, a study in England by Wolpin found that for every execution, there was a reduction, on average, of four other