The Positives and Negatives of Capital Punishment

Updated on April 16, 2018

Capital Punishment Explained

Capital punishment is a government-sanctioned action whereby a criminal is put to death by the state as a punishment for their crime(s). The sentence behind capital punishment is known as the death sentence and the action of carrying out the punishment is known as execution. A crime that results in this sentence is referred to as a capital crime or a capital offence and encompasses crimes such as, genocide, espionage, murder and treason. The term capital is derived from the Latin word capitalis and refers to execution by beheading[1].

56 countries retain the death sentence and, therefore, capital punishment. However, capital punishment remains a controversy and can have differing opinions within political and cultural groups.

Capital punishment remains a global controversy
Capital punishment remains a global controversy

Positive 1: The Ultimate Crime Deterrent

When committing a crime, the criminal will be conscious of the consequences they may face if they are caught and brought to justice. Unfortunately, these consequences aren't enough to deter people from committing crimes, as many are still committed each and every day.

Whilst most people will believe that time behind bars is a dire result of committing crime, others will view it as less of a negative. Prisoners receive 3 meals a day, a free bed and can often experience luxuries such as, television, games consoles and gym equipment. Most serial criminals will have friends and fellow gang members on the inside, meaning that their acts of crime don't have to be stifled once placed behind bars.

The politics of gang activity and other operations, such as drug running, can be contributed to whilst inside of prison. This means that it is often a benefit to most gangs/groups of criminals to have some of their members serving time.

Now, if these crimes that resulted in prison sentences were to be considered capital crimes, that would certainly act as a greater deterrent. The removal of the prison sentence from these crimes also removes the potential positive of committing the crime and the somewhat lax life that can be experienced whilst behind bars.

Positive 2: Repeat Offence Prevention

It is not uncommon for a criminal to be released from prison and commit another crime, often similar to their first, only to find themselves back behind bars. A 2005 study, conducted in the U.S, found that within 3 years of release, 67.8% of released prisoners were rearrested; within 5 years of release, 76.6% of released prisoners were rearrested and more than half of those released prisoners were rearrested within their first year of release. The study tracked 404,638 prisoners across 30 states[2].

These statistics would be reduced through the use of capital punishment. Rather than place prisoners behind bars and release them after a certain amount of time, having them put to death would ensure that they would never walk the streets again. This would guarantee that they wouldn't be able to commit a repeat offence and find themselves entangled in the justice system once more.

Positive 3: Prison Population Control

Capital punishment could be a solution to prison overpopulation.

The state of Illinois has enough facilities to deal with a prison population of 33,000 inmates. However, in 2012 there were a total of 49,000 inmates incarcerated within the state. Iowa is suffering from a similar problem. Currently, Iowa's prisons are overpopulated by 25% and in 2009, staff numbers were reduced from 3,064 to 2,820[3].

Taking this into account, sentencing inmates to death would help to reduce the number of prisoners that are held in the prison system. Although this seems like an unethical way to deal with the problem, some crimes could be considered worthy of capital punishment and it would certainly help to reduce strain on the prison system along with all of its staff members.

The electric chair - a form of capital punishment
The electric chair - a form of capital punishment

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Negative 1: It Sends the Wrong Message

A lot of people who oppose capital punishment believe that it sends the wrong message not only to criminals but to the general public. If killing is seen as wrong, and a crime, then why do we commit the same act to punish the perpetrator?

The act of punishing killing with killing indicates that it is ok to murder, but only when the other person has committed this atrocity first. If the state commits the same act as the criminal, this makes the state just as bad as the initial murderer. Many believe that it is the government's role to be better than the criminal, not to advocate for more killing.

Negative 2: Wrongful Convictions

In very rare, but harrowing, situations, people have been wrongfully convicted for a crime that they did not commit. In some cases, these people have been sentenced to death. For example, in 1976 Gary Beeman was tried and convicted of a crime that he did not commit. The crime in question was aggravated murder and this was met with the death sentence. Fortunately, in 1979 Beeman was granted a new trial and 5 witnesses testified that they heard the true perpetrator confess to the murder, leading to Gary Beeman's acquittal[4].

Over the years, more than 1,000 people have faced capital punishment. It is likely that there have been some wrongful convictions that have led to the death of innocent people. The question is: how many?

Negative 3: Getting Off Lightly

Whilst prison can be bearable for some criminals, it isn't this way for them all. Most of those who commit very serious crimes will be lucky to see the light of day for more than an hour every week. In the U.S, prison cells tend to be 6 by 8 feet in size, large enough for only a bed and a one-piece toilet and sink combo. Being confined to these cramped conditions for hours and hours every single day sounds like no life for a human being, and can cause prisoners to develop serious cases of depression and loneliness.

Taking into account just how distressing it would be to suffer these conditions for years on end, the death sentence may be an easy way out for these criminals. Those who are sentenced to life may never leave the prison walls surrounding them and it could force them to believe themselves that capital punishment would be a better option.

A quick and painless death sounds more appealing than a life behind bars to many people who advocate against capital punishment.

An average cell in an American Prison
An average cell in an American Prison


This has been a balanced look at capital punishment, showing 3 arguments for and against its use. Ultimately, the decision of whether or not capital punishment should be used comes down to the individual and a lot of factors can affect the way each person feels about the topic.

Variables such as morality and religion come into play when considering the use of capital punishment and the populace of all countries that use it remain divided on the matter.

Should capital punishment be used in justice systems across the globe? Let me know in the comments below.



This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.


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    • bradmasterOCcal profile image


      2 years ago


      Thanks, The problem with the death penalty is that many of the convictions are based heavily on circumstantial evidence. While convincing to the jury, it may not be the truth.

      You might also look into the jury system. In a criminal trial the only people that aren't paid, are the defendant and the jury. As the trier of fact, the jury determines whether the evidence presented in the trial is beyond a reasonable doubt.

      This is a difficult concept for lay people. And being judged by a jury or your peer. How often does that happen.

      Also, the media is another distraction and influence on the trial. What is wrong with a professional jury. In a trial by judge, with no jury, the judge takes over the part of trier of fact. So, if the judge can do it, then why can't a professional jury who are more knowledgeable about the law, than current juries, but not at the level of a judge.

      Just a thought.

    • Benjamin McQuaid profile imageAUTHOR

      Benjamin McQuaid 

      2 years ago from England, United Kingdom

      Hello Brad, thank you for your comment.

      I agree that, currently, the negatives of capital punishment severely outweigh the positives.

      Personally, I am in favour of the death penalty as long as the perpetrator has been identified definitely and the process can happen quickly at a low cost.


    • bradmasterOCcal profile image


      2 years ago


      I look at it by saying that the positive of capital punishment is severely reduced by its negative. The negative is that a person can be on death row until they died of natural causes.

      With all of the legal delays, it is very expensive to have capital punishment. It is very expensive and there is no real time frame for its completion.

      Life imprisonment is the best choice because there is not much of a legal delay, and if there was a mistake the wrongly convicted lifer can be vindicated while still breathing.

      A life sentence with no possible parole would also satisfy your positive #2.


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