The Pros and Cons of the Death Penalty

Updated on March 20, 2017
PaulGoodman67 profile image

Paul graduated from university in 1987. He has done a variety of jobs, including librarian and researcher. He currently lives in Florida.

Electrocution is a modern method of execution. Other methods have included hanging, beheading, firing squad, poison, stoning to death, strangulation, lethal injection, and death by fire.
Electrocution is a modern method of execution. Other methods have included hanging, beheading, firing squad, poison, stoning to death, strangulation, lethal injection, and death by fire. | Source

The Death Penalty Debate

Capital punishment is a difficult and emotional topic for many. Although it has been abolished in two thirds of the world's countries, it has a long history and is still used in many places, including many states in the USA.

Its use continues to divide people. To those in favor, the death penalty is seen as the most suitable punishment and effective deterrent for the worst crimes. Those who oppose it, however, see it as inhumane and expensive. They point to data and comparisons of societies with and without capital punishment and argue that there is no evidence that it deters crime.

This article lists all the key pros and cons of executing people who have committed serious criminal offenses— first the arguments in favor, followed by the arguments against.

I will admit, like Socrates and Aristotle and Plato and some other philosophers, that there are instances where the death penalty would seem appropriate.

— Jack Kevorkian

Death Penalty Pros

  • It deters criminals from committing serious crimes. Common sense tells us that the most frightening thing for a human being is to lose their life, therefore the death penalty is the best deterrent when it comes to discouraging people from carrying out the worst crimes.
  • It is quick, painless, and humane. The methods of execution have gradually become more humane over the years, so the argument that the death penalty is cruel and unusual is not valid.
  • The legal system constantly evolves to maximize justice. Just because it is feasible that a wrong decision could be made by the legal system doesn’t mean that the death penalty is wrong. Every effort is made in the US to give death row prisoners opportunities to challenge the court's decisions. Modern methods of crime detection, such as DNA testing, also give greater certainty of guilt than existed in the past.
  • It appeases the victims or victims' families. The death penalty can provide families of victims with some closure, which may help them to deal with their suffering.
  • Without the death penalty, some criminals would continue to commit crimes. It deters prisoners who are already serving life sentences in jail from committing more serious offenses.
  • It is a cost-effective solution. The idea put forward by abolitionists that it costs more to execute someone than imprison them for life is simply not true and there is plenty of evidence to show this.
  • Retribution is not the same as revenge. Retribution is a necessary part of the punishment process— without it, the friends and family of the victims as well as the public in general would not feel that justice had been served.

Death Penalty Cons

  • There is no credible proof that the death penalty works as a deterrent. In the US, in states where the death penalty has been abolished, there has been no significant change in the rates for serious criminal offenses, such as murder.
  • It is is a cruel and unusual punishment, where basic standards of human dignity are compromised or undermined.
  • It continues the cycle of violence. Retribution is just another word for revenge— it is essentially just a form of the flawed thinking that two wrongs can make a right. The pro argument is that killing people is wrong, therefore you should kill people for doing it, which just doesn’t make sense.
  • It affects the poorer segments of society and racial minorities disproportionately, in part because they are unable to afford the costs of good legal support. In the USA, although only 13% of the population is African-American, 50% of death row prisoners are African-American.
  • It is an old-fashioned and ignorant solution. America’s image would be improved in places like Europe if the death penalty were abolished. The places where executions happen regularly include repressive regimes like Iran, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia.
  • The justice system is bound to make mistakes. In the case of people who are wrongly imprisoned, they can be released from prison and given compensation, but a wrongful execution can never righted.
  • The death penalty is not cost-effective. When all the practical and legal costs are taken into account, it is clear that the execution is more expensive than imprisoning for life.
  • A life spent in prison is a worse punishment than an execution.

The death penalty, I think, is a terrible scar on American justice, especially the concept of equal justice under law, but also of due process. And it goes state by state, and it's different in different states.

— Burke Marshall
Alcatraz Penitentiary was notoriously one of America's toughest prisons. Many who are anti-death penalty think that instead, criminals should face life imprisonment for the worst crimes.
Alcatraz Penitentiary was notoriously one of America's toughest prisons. Many who are anti-death penalty think that instead, criminals should face life imprisonment for the worst crimes. | Source

Death Penalty Facts and Statistics

How many people have been killed by the death penalty?

There have been more than 1,400 since 1977. In the US, between 1967 and 1977, there were no executions. In 1972, as a result of Furman v. Georgia, the US Supreme Court reduced all pending death sentences to life imprisonment. Later, in 1976, the court affirmed the legality of capital punishment in Gregg v. Georgia.

How many states have the death penalty?


Which states allow the death penalty?

Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming.

Which states don't have the death penalty?

Alaska (1957)*, Connecticut (2012), Delaware (2016), Hawaii (1957), Illinois (2011), Iowa (1965), Maine (1887), Maryland (2013), Massachusetts (1984), Michigan (1846), Minnesota (1911), New Jersey (2007), New Mexico (2009), New York (2007), North Dakota (1973), Rhode Island (1984), Vermont (1964), West Virginia (1965), Wisconsin (1853), and Washington, D.C. (1981).

*The parenthetical date is when capital punishment ended in that state.

How many of those executed via the death penalty were later found to be innocent?

According to some accounts, the number might be as high as 4.1%. According to a study cited in Newsweek magazine, one in 25 sentenced to death is innocent.

How much does it cost to execute someone?

The average cost of a death penalty case is $2.4 million. To learn more about the relative costs, visit the Death Penalty Information Center.

How is the death penalty administered?

It varies state by state, but the methods (listed from most to least common) are lethal injection, electrocution, gas chamber, hanging, and firing squad.

Read The Guardian for more statistics on the death penalty. You might also find Statistic Brain's data useful.

My objection to the death penalty is based on the idea that this is a democracy, and in a democracy the government is me, and if the government kills somebody then I'm killing somebody.

— Steve Earle

Did You Know?

  • Japan is the only advanced democratic country, besides the United States, that has the death penalty.
  • The five countries that carry out the most executions in the world are China, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and the USA.
  • Since 1976, there have been 273 clemencies granted in the US.

Aileen Wuornos is a female serial killer who killed seven men in Florida between 1989 and 1990.  She claimed self defense, but was found guilty of six murders and executed by the State of Florida by lethal injection on October 9, 2002.
Aileen Wuornos is a female serial killer who killed seven men in Florida between 1989 and 1990. She claimed self defense, but was found guilty of six murders and executed by the State of Florida by lethal injection on October 9, 2002. | Source

Our criminal justice system is fallible. We know it, even though we don't like to admit it. It is fallible despite the best efforts of most within it to do justice. And this fallibility is, at the end of the day, the most compelling, persuasive, and winning argument against a death penalty.

— Eliot Spitzer

Death Penalty Poll

After reading all the pros and cons, are you in favor of the death penalty or against it?

See results

Which Crimes "Deserve" the Death Penalty?

The US government lists 41 capital offenses (different from those listed by separate states) which are punishable by death. They include genocide, war crimes, treason, espionage, terrorism, extensive drug trafficking, murder-for-hire, murder involving torture, and attempting to kill a witness, juror, court officer, or state or local law enforcement official.

You know, the Bible is so clear. Go to Genesis chapter nine and you will find the death penalty clearly stated in Genesis chapter nine... God ordains the death penalty!

— Rafael Cruz

© 2011 Paul Goodman


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    • sivasubrahmanyam profile image

      sivasubrahmanyam shatdarsanam 5 weeks ago from India

      No doubt death penalty is cruel and inhuman. But, this is a necessary evil that has to be continued to make its existence and continuance present. We need not bite but we should hiss to threaten the people from taking criminal activities. There should be reforms in the judicial system to keep the expenditure to the minimum. The cases should be taken up on a priority basis and should be disposed of within a fixed time schedule. The cases coming up for clemency only should be taken up and in no circumstances stay should be granted. Once, the case is taken up and judgment is delivered there should not be any orders to stay such orders. It should be a continuous process involving an Appeal only in the higher courts against the orders of the lower court, but in no situation against staying it's orders.

    • profile image

      Shela Robinson 10 months ago

      Hey why did they do that

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      Anonymous 11 months ago

      Some people r saying that criminals shouldnt sit on death row for so long or people r saying that criminals r killed without a thorough trial. Of all my research they r on death row for so long so courts have a chance to prove the criminal innocent if that's the case or just verify that he is guilty. Thee criminal will actually be given a very good lawyer to make sure that if there is a chance they r innocent they won't be killed

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      Psychotic Dreams 11 months ago

      the death penalty is baaaaad XD you should not kill someone who has killed someone else... there is the whole eye for an eye thing but i feel like killing someone because they killed someone is very dumb. That is like saying if someone has multiple abortions you kill them. I don't care for abortionists but still come on it is inexplicable.

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      unknown 12 months ago

      im against it because you are taking peoples life. even kids die what are you thiking, have yall ever heard people can change. Do you think god wants people to die. They dont even get time to repent and ask to be forgiven. Just like the president election. You heard donald trumps background why pick him, but one day he could change or be the same. You did you deal with it dont kill people because of their history or what they did. Thats why I cant wait until judgement day when yall will learn. thats when the real penalty will come hell or heaven, only that will determine when you be charged or not. But the world is to stupid to notice that they will die one day and that can change before they do, so why take away their chance.

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      Anonymous 13 months ago

      I am for the dearth penalty mainly because regardless of what others think I believe it is a way of cleaning up society regardless of how crude they are. And if the criminal is mentally unstable then they should be placed in a mental institution for help not be placed in prison for life otherwise thei will suffer much longer for something they couldn't control.

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      Anon 15 months ago

      The death penalty is only used in extreme cases. It is only used if known for sure that the perpetrator is guilty. Nobody will ever be falsely put to death. I agree with this method. Contrary to what everyone thinks, it is not expensive for lethal injection. For those saying its inhumane, it's not. They don't feel any pain. If someone kills people, then them themselves should be killed. I don't really mind though. Maybe they should spend the rest of their life in jail. I say this because hopefully they will suffer in jail, maybe death is an easy way out. Nevertheless, they deserve what's coming to them.

    • profile image

      PugFather 2 years ago

      In my opinion the death penalty should only be used in extreme cases.

      aka Pug Abusers @thepugabuser :(

    • profile image

      thepugabuser 2 years ago


      you want a go you wob a brick ill just boris the brick at your wall ya wooden plank

    • profile image

      prayojan 2 years ago

      I agree fully. I do not put deterrence as my first issue but justice and protection as my first two. I used to be an opponent of the DP but became a supporter. Here is the reason why I changed from an opponent to a supporter of the death penalty.

    • Phil Perez profile image

      Phil Perez 2 years ago

      The Death Penalty is illogical. I'll explain why. How can you teach the person not to act criminally if they are dead? Why do people continue to act criminally if the Death Penalty is to show others what will happen if you commit a severe crime? What if fear isn't good enough to teach others?

      I agree it costs a lot to have a better method, but Sweden seems to be doing a pretty good job at it. America however, is focused on war and does not care much for the pawns in their cruel game of chess. We should not have different ways of "teaching" just to seem unique, we should all strive to have the best way! Or the better way than everyone else, for now until we as human beings are intelligent enough to know the best way.

    • krsharp05 profile image

      Kristi Sharp 5 years ago from Born in Missouri. Raised in Minnesota.

      Interesting hub. I'm against the death penalty and have been for my entire adult life. As a child of someone who was murdered, people are often confused as to why I would want the guilty man to go to prison as opposed to be put to death. I worked at a Kansas prison and know first hand what oppression looks like. It seems that there are several comments here that are more emotional than logical but it's easy to let emotion control you when it's people you love. Nevertheless, great hub. -K

    • profile image

      babydoll webb 5 years ago

      I very much agreed with James Nash.What a concept. Who ever give anyone the permission to killed someone.What do you an eye for an eye? Do you think that if someone was convicted of murder, Do think that the person should be executed? What a laugh. Sin is Sin. Death is Death.There is only one god and he would be the judge.He gave life and he should take life. No one should

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      James Nash 5 years ago

      so you think justice is being served by execution, what a concept, you can't bring the victim back by executing any-one, what you mean is revenge is being served, and why do you not think that life in prison with-out a chance for parole isn't a punishment, why should we let a murderer bring us down to their level? the u.s is one of the only civlized countries left still executing, look it up on the web, and see who we're in company with when it comes to the death penalty.

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      Murod 5 years ago

      I think so

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      country girl101 5 years ago

      i am for the death penalty because once a person goes to jain for life they don't really care what happens so what if that person killed lots of people and they escape then what we has a murderer back on the streets. Then not to mention if a person is a murderer then there is something wrong with there head and they would take advantage of being in jail and many people are ok with jail because they rule it there and they wouldn't have aproblem killing in there. So i am for the death penalty completely to get those ruthless murderers off the earth

    • profile image

      fruity juicy 5 years ago

      its bad

    • profile image

      juicy fruit 5 years ago

      its good

    • profile image

      juicy fruit 5 years ago

      i think

    • profile image

      Joe 5 years ago

      I feel no remorse for those who murder, because they should have considered the consequences before commiting such an act. Even the death penalty is a very mild form of the experience they put there victim through. I feel bad for the victim who had endured such a nightmare and not the one who caused it all to happen.

    • vcollum profile image

      vcollum 5 years ago from alabama

      I am totally against death penalty and I haven't always had this soft heart..since my moms exhusband is on death row for her murder. I never want the man on the on street but since he has lived in that cell for 22 years I don't see what 20 more would hurt. Alejandra the cost to try death sentence I feel is myth. Well i know here in alabama those on death cant afford to pay an attorney and the ones they get over appointed through there life on death row your top of the line high quality lawyers. And that's how the system fails them especially the innocent ones.

    • profile image

      Alejandra 5 years ago

      so what do you think about the cost is there more to it ?

    • profile image

      drose12 5 years ago

      zk there are not inicient people dying they have the dna evidence and with the technology today there arent inicient people being put to death

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      nick 5 years ago

      if there sentecned to life without parole they usually have nothing to lose so what keeps them from constantly killing in prison? those people are going to not put any thought into there actions and there going to do what they think is right in that moment

    • wilmiers77 profile image

      wilmiers77 5 years ago from Oklahoma City, OK

      Thanks, I like hearing the pros and cons concerning anything, than I can think it out better.

    • profile image

      die hard penis 6 years ago

      u will only kill one person and if u did not kill a killer then u would have less people in the world because he would kill a lot of them and what if he killed someone in your family u would want him killed right right??? i think so

    • profile image

      Anonymous 6 years ago

      I am aganst the death penalty. it is horrable, and what if the peson was forced by another.

    • thieshajones profile image

      thieshajones 6 years ago from Savannah, Georgia

      @Cheaptrick I agree!

      Another difference is:

      * one is legally (and politically) accepted

      * the other is immoral or unethical legally (from a political perspective)

      I say politically because the death penalty still exists.

    • profile image

      mayra 6 years ago

      don't agree

    • profile image

      zk 6 years ago

      skittle chick is right what if that person did not do the crime but was killed eneywhases.

    • profile image

      zackary k 6 years ago

      i hate the death pentalty!

    • profile image

      Skittle Chick 6 years ago

      I Am doing A Report/ Essay About This And Im Against It. Ive Read Your Coments And I Agree And Disagree With Some Of Them. I Feel That They Shouldn't Die,Life In Prison Can Be Better Than Loosing Your Life. I know That You Guys Have already Writtin This But I Want To Make Sure You Understand Because I Know people Want Justice, But Is It Really Worth Someone Loosing There Life? I mean The Killer,Murder,Rapest can Be Sick In The Head. You Don't Know That, Maybe They Were Born That Way And Cant Help It.Do You really Think They Ment To Do It? Ask Yourself One More Question. What If That Person Was You WHo Commited The Crime?

    • profile image

      hiyae 6 years ago

      necrofeliacs should be put to death because dead bodies do not deserve what they do to them

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      SanXuary 6 years ago

      When the crime is taking someone elves life and it is beyond a doubt the death penalty is the only cure. So many criminals have been caught and later discovered to have gotten a way with it before. The same truth our those who our released only to commit the same crime again. All other crimes our petty in comparison to horrific acts of murder. There is no cure for socio-paths and people who have no feelings towards others or their humanity. Simply put pre-meditated murder crosses the line in terms of ever curing ones self from evil.

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      Anonymous 6 years ago

      I see everyones point of view but put yourself in the place of the victims family. Would you want that hurt that you felt on anyone else? I know I wouldn't and I talk from experince. Another thing is that what is the difference between the person who committed the crime and us?

    • toygurus profile image

      toygurus 6 years ago

      I like how you weighed the pros and cons. There is no clear answer. Two people may have different viewpoints and both may be absolutely right. the important thing is to have a debate in your head before coming to an opinion.

    • cheaptrick profile image

      cheaptrick 6 years ago from the bridge of sighs

      An eye for an eye...and eventualy,the whole world goes blind.

      The only difference between murder and execution is the order in which it takes place.


    • b. Malin profile image

      b. Malin 6 years ago

      I am for the Death Penalty...Some Criminal do not deserve to live and be a burden for the rest of their lives on Tax payers... and some get out and KILL again...If there is NO Doubt they should be put to death, and not be allowed to sit on Death Row for l0, 15, or 20 years...There Victims did not have a choice...if they did they would have chosen not to be killed.

    • PaulGoodman67 profile image

      Paul Goodman 6 years ago from Florida USA

      @McCordRM - Thanks for your comment. The argument that the death penalty is more expensive than life in prison without parole is often put forward by abolitionists. This is disputed by death penalty advocates. You would think that it would be straightforward to work out the figures and provide a definitive answer, but as the figures are disputed, I thought that I would include both points of view in the interest of balance.

    • McCordRM profile image

      McCordRM 6 years ago from Texas

      I'm curious why you posted the same arguments as both Pros and Cons. Either it costs more to keep criminals alive, or it doesn't, for example.

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      Nick Lucas 6 years ago

      Why do people worry about the method being humane? If the person is guilty without any doubt, then money could be saved by using a bullet. The person who is sentenced to death didn't worry about their actions being humane as they killed and or torchured another.

    • Ralph Deeds profile image

      Ralph Deeds 6 years ago from Birmingham, Michigan

      Nice hub. If you like the death penalty, Rick Perry's your man. He surpassed George Bush's record as a Texas death machine governor this week.

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