top of page

Should the Death Penalty be Abolished in America?

Ananth Thomas

From the beginning of modern civilization, justice has always been the cornerstone of a

successful nation. Whether a country has a lenient justice system such as Switzerland or tough, cutthroat systems like those in the Middle East, a system of justice has always been essential to set the right example. America falls in the middle of the two extremes, with there being limits set by the Constitution, prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment.

This is where the problem with the death penalty lies. Is it cruel or unusual? 2. According to the Death Penalty Information Center, “1556 men and women have been executed in the United States since the 1970s.” Surprisingly, of this number, many have been wrongly executed. According to Brian Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, “For every nine people on death row executed, there is one found to be innocent.” This is an astounding fact, showing that of the 1556 men and women who have faced capital punishment, around 173, possibly, have been innocent. With this in mind, many states have discontinued the practice of capital punishment. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, “Capital punishment is currently authorized in 27 states, by the federal government and the U.S. military.” This means that only less than half of the country prohibits the Death Penalty. For these states, offenders over the age of 18 can be subject to death for crimes such as homicide, terrorism, etc. Trials, though, can take decades and a proper verdict costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. Apart from this are the other services needed such as lawyers, judges, time, and countless other resources. This leads back to the last statistic where even after all these amenities are used, still, there is a one in nine chance that the person sentenced was wrongly convicted, begging the question, what is all this even for?

The costs of implementing the Death Penalty

Due to increased technology and new forms of mechanization, crime has steadily increased over the last couple of decades. According to Bryan Stevenson, “In 1972, there were 300,000 people incarcerated. Today, there are 2.3 million. That’s the highest rate in the world.” The Justice System is a slow-moving process, with lower levels of crime already taking months to process. In complicated, evidence-rich cases, which Death-Penalty cases fall under, a verdict and sentencing can take decades, sometimes so long that the convict dies of natural causes before their sentencing. According to the Pew Research Center, “The average prisoner awaiting execution at the end of 2019, meanwhile, had spent nearly 19 years on death row.” According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, more death row inmates have died of natural causes and suicides than executions. For example, according to the Florida Department of Corrections, “Norman Parker served approximately 45 years on death row until his death (not by execution) in 2012.” Not to mention, the cost of executions has skyrocketed. According to the Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, “The average cost of defending a trial in a federal death case is $620,932.” Moreover, to confine the spending to a singular state, California reports that costs for their death penalty system are roughly $137 million a year, and, if reformed to make the system fairer, it would cost $233 million a year. On the other hand, if these citizens were given lifetime sentences, it would only cost California $11.5 million a year.

The Ethics of Imposing the Death Penalty

This raises the question, why do states impose the death penalty when it takes longer, the verdict may be wrong, and it costs more? The answer lies in the philosophical statement, an eye for an eye. For many homicide cases, public opinion generally trends towards enacting the same punishment the perpetrator committed towards them. For example, after the Boston Marathon Bombings on April 15, 2013, the surviving bomber, Dzhokar Tsarnaev, was sentenced to death for the death of three people, and the injuries of 280. American citizens immediately asked for the death penalty to come into effect, stating that Tsarnaev should be treated with the same amount of mercy he showed to those in Boston, none. Citing that he showed no sympathy for the lives of Americans in Boston, Americans protested that he should be shown no compassion either, proving the ideal of an eye for an eye in our society. And this would lead an impartial bystander to think that the death penalty scares criminals, and makes them fear more than a lifetime of free food and housing. This, in fact, is not the case.

According to the Georgetown Public Policy Review, “Respondents generally feel that the

death penalty is morally justified in some circumstances, but that it does not deter crime and is

vulnerable to sentencing mistakes.” The Death Penalty also has inadvertent side effects such as portraying the US Government in a negative light by showing them as brutal and harsh.

According to the University of Pennsylvania, “But there have also been claims that executions

“brutalize” society because government agencies diminish respect for life when the death penalty is applied. With brutalization comes an increase in violent crime, and especially homicides.” Executing criminals, though they deserve it, brings us down to their level in a way since we are emulating their behavior. What right gives the United States government the right to kill, but not its citizens? Apart from this, why do some crimes deserve the death penalty now, but used to not involve it? Who decides what makes certain crimes executable? One example of this was the Supreme Court’s ruling that the rape of a child did not deserve the death penalty. According to the Independent Institute, “When the Supreme Court recently ruled that the death penalty for raping a child was unconstitutional, the justices relied on the rationale that it was contrary to the “evolving standards of decency” by which the court applies capital punishment.” Is the rape of a child not as bad as homicide? These problems stretch out to the root of the problem with the death penalty: biases. There is no threshold for death penalty cases, no definite line where if a case falls just short, the perpetrator isn’t given the death penalty. This is where the line is crossed, going into the religious and social aspects. A common argument is that the government has no right to take away life. Who gave them that right? Humans have the basic right to live, and according to the Constitution, cruel and unusual punishment is forbidden. Is the Death Penalty cruel and unusual punishment? Planned Homicide is cruel and unusual, which is exactly what the Death Penalty is. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, “The U.S. death penalty system flagrantly violates human rights law. It is often applied in an arbitrary and discriminatory manner without affording vital due process rights. Moreover, methods of execution and death row conditions have been condemned as “cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment and even torture.” These titles are not only given to our Justice System, but reflect on us as a country, and show why we are one of the only countries in the Western Hemisphere to still employ these practices.

Positives of the Death Penalty

Currently, in the United States, there are almost 2.2 million incarcerated men and women, with 1.38 million in federal and state prisons and 745,200 in jails. Each of these individuals require amenities to live. According to the Marshall Project, “The Bureau of Justice Statistics reckons that the United States spends more than $80 billion each year to keep roughly 2.3 million people behind bars.” This money comes from taxpayers and from the Incarcerated’s family, who basically pay for criminals to live with housing, food, and other amenities. This support encourages wrongdoers, who do not fear prison because, for some, prison life is a better life than the one they previously lived. The Death Penalty serves more as an example for others than punishment for the accused. According to Richard Berk, a journalist for the Department of Criminology at the University of Pennsylvania, “When there are executions, violent crime decreases.” This sense of fear is one of the reasons why the death penalty is still being implemented, despite its criticisms and ethics. When criminals see others facing the most extreme form of punishment available, it scares them and stops them from committing any more crimes, for the fear of being caught and being subjected to the same fate. When criminals are executed, more than punishment for them, they serve as poster boys for what not to do, the faces that families see on the news and tell their kids not to grow up like.


Ultimately, the Death Penalty should be abolished. There are many reasons for it to be

abolished, and most of these outweigh the reasons why it should be kept. For one, the cost. In a country where our founding fathers established the right to life, we spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year taking away this right. Not only is it morally wrong, but it is also financially foolish to spend tenfold on a process that has evidence proving that it does nothing to help the greater good of our country. The Death Penalty doesn’t stop crime, and as the GPPReview states, “it disproportionately impacts minorities and it is vulnerable to grave mistakes of executing innocent people.” There is no reason for our country to invest and uphold a practice that not only leads us nowhere but tarnishes our reputation in the process.



States and Capital Punishment. (n.d.).

Center, D. P. I. (2021, August 27). United States Supreme Court. Death Penalty Information


Gramlich, J. (2021, July 20). 10 facts about the death penalty in the U.S. Pew Research Center.

Death Row -- Florida Department of Corrections. (n.d.).

Lockwood, B., & Lewis, N. (2019, December 17). The Hidden Cost of Incarceration. The

Marshall Project.

Human Rights and the Death Penalty. (2022, February 16). American Civil Liberties Union.

Farber, E. (2021, March 3). Public Opinion on the Death Penalty: Where Republicans and

Democrats Agree (and Disagree). Georgetown Public Policy Review.


Craft, S. (2022, March 31). Racial Inequity and the Death Penalty. Equal Justice USA.

Prison Population by State 2022. (n.d.).

Prisoners in 2020 – Statistical Tables. (n.d.). Bureau of Justice Statistics.


bottom of page