Historical rationales for capital punishment.
Today, if we look at the historical rationales for capital punishment, only one remains: Retribution.
Another look at Deterrence:
Scientific studies have generally found that the practice of capital punishment does not deter capital crime. Some studies find the opposite, that the practice of capital punishment may increase capital crimes like murder. Studies like these have given rise to what is known as the Brutalization Hypothesis, which simply states that there is a cause-and-effect relationship between executions and an increase in the homicide rate. The idea is that executions are not a deterrent, they actually diminish societies respect for life.
Another look at Repentance:
Religion had a strong influence on society during the 1700’s and 1800’s. As that influence waned and as executions became less accessible, the church’s role in executions faded significantly. Today, it would be rare to hear someone acknowledge that repentance was ever a goal of execution. The real irony is that many churches now oppose the death penalty (Links to an external site.), even the Catholic Church, who supported of the death penalty for centuries reversed it’s position with the publishing of Pope John Paul II’s Evangelium Vitae or Gospel of Life in 1995. In spite of many in the religious community opposing the death penalty, many advocates will argue that the bible encourages it.
Historical rationales for capital punishment
Another look at Retribution
In a recent Zoom interview with District Court Judge Mark Blechman, the judge stated that when he sentences someone to prison, the purpose of the sentence is retribution or punishment for violating the law. In our society, we believe that criminals deserve to be punished and that punishment should be proportional to the gravity of the crime. In this line of thinking, capital punishment is the most extreme punishment reserved for the most extreme crimes. One of the early philosophers who argued for proportional punishment was the Italian philosopher Cesare Beccaria (1764). He was advocating for proportional punishment when the punishment for most crimes was death. Beccaria also spoke out against the death penalty, “Is it not absurd, that the laws, which detest and punish homicide, should, in order to prevent murder, publicly commit murder themselves?”