The death penalty, also known as capital punishment, is a practice where a person is put to death by the state as a punishment for a violent crime they are found guilty to have committed.
Capital punishment is based on the argument that it is a strong deterrent against violent crime and prevents criminals from becoming repeat offenders, while discouraging others from committing a similar crime. There is research that both, supports and negates this assumption, which makes it difficult to study the effectivity of the death penalty.
Supporters of capital punishment contend that it forces people to consider the worth of committing the crime. They present studies that have found that people are more likely to be dissuaded from committing crime if the punishment was swift, certain and severe. One notable example is the negligible murder rate in Saudi Arabia, where capital punishment is public and frequent.
The deterrence theory draws support from the fact that it is impossible to test the number of people or crimes that capital punishment has deterred. In any research, the only aspect that can be studied is the crime rate, and not the number of crimes that the death penalty deterred.
Hard evidence also seems to prove that abolishment of the death penalty leads to increasing homicide rates, supporting the theory that the death penalty does deter crime. Following the abolition of the capital punishment in the UK in 1965, murder rates have since increased.
Abolitionists, however, contend that the deterrence theory wrongly assumes that humans are rational beings who have control over their actions and that they consider the consequences of their deeds. According to statistics, half of all murders are committed while under the influence of drugs or during an argument and hence are not subjected to rational thought.
Furthermore, an argument against the deterrence theory is the perception theory of being able to escape from crimes. Most criminals commit crime with the mindset of escaping arrest and punishment. The severity of punishment, if at all, acts only as a minor deterrence.
Another argument is that the death penalty removes the individual from society without offering any chance for rehabilitation on realizing their mistake.
To add to that, the death penalty can be argued to be unethical due to possible mistakes, corruption or unfairness in the legal system. Since the death penalty is irreversible, there is no possibility of compensating for the miscarriage of justice.
A possible solution to the dilemma is that the death penalty may not be abolished, as it does seem to provide deterrence to some extent. However, reforms must be put in legal and investigative processes to prevent innocents from being executed by mistake, bias or corruption.