In 2020, the United States conducted the fewest number of executions in nearly three decades: 17. While this news may be encouraging for critics of capital punishment, there’s more to the story of the death penalty.
While the national total trends downward, there was a rise in federal executions this year. States accounted for only seven executions, while the federal government tallied 10. That was the highest federal execution count in a century and the first time federal executions have surpassed the number of executions collectively carried out by states.
This shows that the death penalty still has significant support from people in powerful positions.
The death penalty is a paradox in that it is marketed as an act of justice, but, in truth, the practice is clearly unjust. The intentional taking of life by the government goes against the founding principles of this country and is an immoral practice that needs to be abolished.
The leading argument in support of the death penalty is to deter violent crime. The argument goes this way: if executing violent criminals deters others from following suit, then it is a worthwhile act. It saves lives in the long term.
This argument would be of merit if there were evidence to support a deterrent effect, but the case for deterrence is weak.
Sociologists William C. Bailey and Ruth D. Peterson state that no studies “have produced credible evidence of a significant deterrent effect for capital punishment.”
Without a significant deterrent effect, the argument for the death penalty lacks purpose. The debate becomes a question of determining the best way to provide justice in situations of violent crime. This is problematic for the death penalty because there is a difference between punishment and justice.
Capital punishment is not justice.
Justice requires healing and growth. Executing criminals provides punishment, but there is no place for healing on death row. This calls for restorative justice, a process that works to heal the damages that have been done and allow everyone to grow from their dark situations.
By no means is restorative justice an easy solution, but it would encourage healing in relationships and communities. It also offers an opportunity for those who would be on death row to attempt to make amends and take steps to right their wrongs.
Capital punishment fails to serve any purpose outside of punishment, and, beyond that, it actively endorses injustice in other ways. The practice of execution in the United States has a history of discrimination. The system used to conduct death sentences and executions is riddled with injustices.
Research shows that the death penalty is disproportionately applied to people of lower economic status. The steep fees for legal representation cause lower-income individuals to be poorly represented and have worse court outcomes.
Race is another cause of injustice in death penalty sentencing. The non-partisan U.S General Accounting Office determined there was “a pattern of evidence indicating racial disparities in the charging, sentencing and imposition of the death penalty.”
Eighty two percent of the studies showed a correlation between race of victim and death sentencing: a defendant is more likely to be sentenced to death if the victim was white. In addition, more than 75% of the studies found that Black defendants were more likely to receive the death penalty.
Disparities based on wealth and race are indicative that this system of promoting justice is failing to apply that justice to everyone equally. By definition, this means there is no justice being applied.
With the ineffectuality of the death penalty and the injustices associated with it in mind, it is vain to continue pursuing the death penalty as if it were a legitimate option for promoting justice. The practice should be abolished entirely and resources reallocated to promote actual justice.
Since the start of the year, the federal government has conducted three executions. If the United States wants to uphold its ideals of justice, they should be the last three human beings to be killed under the guise of capital punishment.