The Economic Significance of Capital Punishment

Introduction

The survival of any civilization hinges on the establishment of laws and codes of conduct and the subsequent obeying of the same by the society’s members. Due to the fact that not all members of the society are going to follow the law on their own accord, forms of punishment for wrongs done may be used both for retribution and deterrence purposes. The Criminal Justice System of a country fulfils this role by providing a legal means through which offenders can be punished.

One of the realities about the United States Criminal Justice System is that it is a hugely expensive system that takes a considerable amount of government revenue. One of the controversial aspects of the criminal justice system is that it allows for the use of capital punishment. This is used as the harshest form of retribution for the society’s most vicious offences.

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Many people believe that the death sentence is not justifiable despite the brutality of the crime that a person may have committed. Advocates of the death advocate on the other hand argue that the death penalty has numerous benefits and should not be abolished. This paper shall argue that the death penalty should not be abolished since it is not only the most efficient means for deterring future offenders but it also saves the federal government millions of dollars and is therefore economically astute.

A Case for the Death Penalty

Increased crime rates are almost invariably connected to a diminished economic well being of the people affected. It is therefore the chief objective of all governments through their law enforcement agencies to mitigate crime.

The most desirable function of punishments should be to act as a deterrence to would be criminals. In an ideal environment, punishments should never have to be executed but their mere presence should cause all to abide to the rules and regulations in place therefore peacefully coexist. Capital punishment presents the highest level of deterrence since death is indeed the ultimate punishment.

This is especially so in cases where the criminal feels immune to the other forms of punishment such as restriction on freedom of movement or even hard labor. A study by Dezhbakhsh and Shepherd on the deterrence effect of capital punishment revealed that capital punishment resulted in a significant reduction of homicides (30). This is because people were less likely to engage in this crime with the probability of a death sentence on the table

Citizens of all countries agree to abide by the laws and regulation set by their government and pay taxes in return for certain rights and privileges from their government. One of the services that the government offers is protecting its people from both local and foreign threats. In instances where the government is unable to protect its people from rampant crime, political instability may follow. Instability is characterized by riots, assassinations and even outbreak of civil wars.

Such a state is detrimental for the economic wellbeing of a country since it discourages investments therefore reducing the nation’s earnings. The death sentence results in a perception of justice especially when it is carried out against murderers. This perceived justice will result in more faith in the justice system and by extension the government.

There is a relationship between the incarceration rates and the presence and implementation of the death sentence. Maintaining of prisons is an expensive affair and the cost is borne by the taxpayer. If criminals do not perceive the punishments they stand to face as being threatening enough, they will continue to commit crime and on prosecution, serve sentences in federal prisons at a cost to the taxpayer.

Texas is one of the cities which experienced a crime peak which resulted in building of more jails to house the inmates. Spelman reveals that the Texas prison buildup was estimated to cost the State $1.5 billion per year (137). Texas responded to this increase in crime by reviving executions, a move which resulted in a 49.6% decline in homicide rates from 1992-2003. In addition to this, the rates of incarcerations reduced significantly therefore saving the state a significant amount of money.

Crimes such as murder result in the loss of economic assets by the community. The loss is unjustifiable since in most cases, the crimes which carry the death sentence are perpetrated by hardened criminals.

These characters are of little economic value to the society and their contribution to the economy or general well being of the country is minimal. The death sentence has been proven to be a significant deterrence to murder since this is one of the crimes which carries the death sentence.

The society can therefore better preserve its economic assets through the death sentence by executing murderers. In trying to consider whether an execution was worthwhile or not, Donohue and Wolfes declared that invariably, the life-life tradeoffs were large than zero (61).

In addition to this, the death sentence removes the risk that criminals pose to economically valuable members of the society. A study by Sunstein and Vermeule argued that each execution as a result of the death sentence resulted in the life of at least one would be murder victim being spared (706).Becker goes as far as to propose that executions should be allowed if the lives of the murderers were less socially valuable than the lives of their victims (1).

The alternative to capital punishment which is proposed by opponents of the death penalty is life imprisonment without possibility of parole. These opponents propose that this punishment is more humane and therefore the preferred option.

As it currently stands, the annual cost of maintaining prisoners in the correctional facilities is high (Gottschalk 925). Life imprisonment translates to the prisoner having to be maintained in the penitentiary for his entire life. These costs will include healthcare and any other service offered to prisoners.

This is a very costly and economically unsound affair considering the fact that the society will never reap any economic benefits from the person who has been imprisoned for life. Capital punishment as executed by methods such as the lethal injection is not only radically cheaper but it also spares the state of the resources it would have utilized to ensure that the prisoner is maintained for a lifetime.

Case for Abolishing the Death Penalty

One objection to the use of capital punishment would be the possibility of wrongfully executing a person. Such an action would results in the psychological distress of not only the surviving members of the executed person but also to the jurors who made the call. Such distress would significantly reduce the individual’s efficiency hence decreasing their contribution to the economy.

Gottschalk reveals that this likelihood has resulted in a change of heart by jurors in capital punishment cases since people are unwilling to make the mistake of sentencing an innocent man to death (925). A suitable response to this objection would be that the justice system is thorough and always strives to ensure that the correct verdict is passed and that the innocent are not punished.

Nevertheless, there exist possibilities of passing wrong judgments regardless of whether the capital punishment is involved or not due to human error or other unavoidable circumstances. As such, this should not be used as a justification for scraping the death penalty entirely since the likelihood of making mistakes in the justice process is not entirely isolated to capital punishment. The number of wrong judgments made is also so minimal and is a worthwhile risk considering the merits inherent in the death sentence.

Conclusion

This paper set out to argue that the death penalty should not be abolished since it is an economically sound form of punishment with great benefits to the entire community. This paper has revealed that there is strong evidence of crime deterrence through execution. A criminal justice system that exposes criminals to the risk of capital punishment will deter crimes and especially murder significantly.

The paper has especially demonstrated that the death penalty would have a positive economic impact starting from deterring crimes, reducing the cost of running prisons and reducing the risk to economically valuable people posed by murderers.

While some people do contend that the death penalty should never be imposed on anyone, regardless of their crimes, it can be authoritatively stated from the above discussions that capital punishment serves a significant role in the society and may indeed have a positive impact on the economic well being of the society.

Works Cited

Becker, Gary. “On the Economics of Capital Punishment.” The Economists’ Voice, 3:3, art. 4. 2006.

Dezhbakhsh, Hashem and Joanna M. Shepherd. The Deterrent Effect of Capital Punishment: Evidence from a Judicial Experiment. Working Paper No. 18, 2004.

Donohue, John and Wolfes, Justin. Estimating the impact of the death penalty on murder. Working paper No. 12, 2007.

Gottschalk, Marie. “The Politics of the Death Penalty”. Perspectives on Politics, vol. 7/No. 4, 2009.

Spelman, William. “Jobs or Jails: The Crime Drop in Texas.” Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 24:1. pp. 133–165, 2005.

Sunstein, C and Vermeule, A. “Is Capital Punishment Morally Required?” Stanford Law Review, 58. p. 706, 2005.

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