Death Penalty and Deterrence
By Ken K. Gourdin
After two Utah State Prison inmates were charged for separate killings each committed behind bars (see coverage of the crimes in Salt Lake City’s Deseret News, available here and last accessed June 12, 2017: http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865630590/Two-inmates-charged-in-separate-killings-at-Utah-State-Prison.html), I pointed out the flaw in the argument, “Well, we don’t even need the death penalty. Simply put killers behind bars where they cannot hurt anyone else.”
Those who argue that the death penalty is not an effective general deterrent because very few people who kill other human beings, if any, stop to consider that they, too, might lose their lives if they take someone else’s life may have a point. However, the fact remains that whatever the death penalty may lack in ability to serve as a general deterrent, it still is the most effective specific deterrent possible.
Conversely, those who argue that anyone behind bars deserves what he gets (including death) ignore a whole host of rights to which even prisoners, no matter what they have done and even if they are sentenced (eventually) to die, are entitled. Few would argue, for example, that death actually is an appropriate penalty for armed robbery, or even for rape. However, given the violent tendencies of so many people who are behind bars, it is impossible for authorities to guarantee anyone’s safety.
It’s a good thing these men were behind bars, where they couldn’t hurt any …
Oh, wait: Never mind.
They’re “Exhibit 1” and “Exhibit 1a,” respectively, of why, while good arguments exist that the death penalty should be imposed and/or carried out only rarely, that sanction probably should not be discontinued entirely.