Saturday, June 28, 2008

Rights to die

The Supreme Court's recent decision to not evoke the death penalty in cases of child rape raises the question of why the death penalty exists for any crime and what effect the law has on crimes it is evoked for.

There are a few traditional justifications for the death penalty in general: (1) to deter a particular crime; (2) to remove those people who can't be rehabilitated from society permanently or (3) to get "justice" or satisfy emotional needs of surviving victims. I will discuss why each does not justify the death penalty as an acceptable application to prevent child rape - or murder and other violent crimes.

Death penalty as a deterrent. This belief has been largely unsupported by empirical evidence. And it is also not the case that removing death as punishment has any effect on the number of incidents of crime. Criminals don't think they will get caught. This is part of Piaget's personal fable, a foundation of adolescent psychology, that takes place after age 12. A contemporary and anecdotal example is Dateline's To Catch a Predator. Often child molesters will cite a fear of being on the show, while being secretly taped for the show. Therefore demonstrating that the death penalty as deterrent for child rape never worked and thus children are no less safe with the decision.

Removing undesirables from society. Let's assume that child rape is an incurable mental illness. Consider that recidivism rates indicate that after five years, over 30% of rapists recommit the crime; murder recidivism rates are 35% in the US, according to the state of Washington. The difference here is minimal -- the bottom line we want people who repeatedly rape children to be removed from society. Life in prison accomplishes the same purpose. Meanwhile the economics of life in prison versus capital punishment are widely discussed and often life in prison is more economical.

Achieving justice and appeasing the surviving victim. How does our society define justice? Exodus 21:23–27 says an "eye for an eye." Webster's dictionary has two essential definitions: "adhering to the law" or "the quality of being just, impartial, or fair." Restorative justice emphasizes repairing the harm caused by criminal behavior through a cooperative processes. This tactic has been used in cases of rape, in particular acquaintance rape. The last tactic aims at what the could be argued is the most practical approach to violent crime - involving the victims and the perpetrators in reconciliation. In the case of rape, many victims are compelled to repeat the crime. Murder victims, on the other hand, are incapable of repeating the crime - relatives of friends deal with sorrow and anger but they don't often perform revenge killings. And so its arguable in cases of rape comprehensive victim support is most crucial.

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