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Between Affliction and Alcatraz

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  1. Introduction
  2. The death penalty vs. life imprisonment
  3. The retentionists view incapacitation
  4. The blatant fallacy in the 'commonsense argument'
  5. Retribution: The strongest argument for capital punishment
  6. The arguments in favor of capital punishment
  7. Conclusion
  8. Bibliography

History is littered by the decaying carcasses of punishment, institutions that will forever be remembered for their severity, even amidst the global hunger for something worse. The tortured ghosts of this nation's blackest memories still walk the halls of Alcatraz. The billowing sails of the Sydney Opera House rise above England's greatest prison. But the modern era has given birth to a new generation of punishment, a new means to the utter control of the individual by the state: the death penalty. However, such a drastic measure will never be absorbed into American society without debate. As Anthony Amsterdam states, ?capital punishment is a fancy phrase for legally killing people,? and a harsh step above life imprisonment. This debate, a debate between life and death, between abolitionists and retentionists, has uncovered facts and arguments long since lost in the shadows of the federal legal system. While the points made on both sides of the issue are crucial, the validity of the reasoning behind retaining the death penalty is unclear. Capital punishment is unnecessary, and like Alcatraz and Australia, it should fade to a distant reminder of humanity's attempts to establish the perfect institution of punishment.

[...] This distinctions between first-degree and second-degree, defense and intent, and especially premeditated and not, are distinctions that even the ruling judges cannot make let alone the juries or the murderers themselves. Confining the crimes even further, into premeditated murders, into capital offenses, the application of retribution is still arbitrary with the use of jurors. Two men found guilty of the same crimes can receive drastically different punishments, as different as life and death, as different as retributive and not. Amsterdam contests that they are put to death ?freakishly in the sense that whether a man lives or dies for any particular crime is a matter of lack and happenstance? (274). [...]


[...] It is loosely based on an economic model, a linear relationship between severity of punishment and severity of deterrence. But the human capacity for deterrence is not infinite; after a certain point, an individual can be deterred no further. Most mentally stable individuals will rarely consider murder, and it can be supposed that the threat of life imprisonment will provide enough deterrence for this type of person; Massachusetts does not recognize capital punishment, and the majority of its citizens are not out committing capital offenses. [...]

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