I’ve experienced death as a reality only so much in my still young life. Both my grandfathers passed away in my late college years and we’ve had to euthanize three cats since I started college, two strays and one we’ve had since I was in high school. The most recent one I watched with my own eyes, overdosed with a barbiturate and slowly drifting to a permanent sleep. Death is something we must accept as unavoidable and natural, the flipside of life. But the enthusiasm to exact justice through it has always troubled me as an ethical quandary. Why kill people to make things right, even if those people have killed others? It won’t bring the victims back and it won’t bring any sense of closure to the survivors or those close to the victims. There’s even cost measures to consider of how expensive it is to hire people and put together the shots that first put the person into unconsciousness, then anesthetize/paralyze them and finally stop their heart. The idea is that it’s more humane than electrocution or hanging, but I would think treating even criminals with some sense of dignity, even in incarceration, is better than taking their lives into your hands and snuffing them out. I can’t be sure of the comparison of maintaining jails, even if it was strictly for the most heinous of crimes (murder, rape and abuse), against taking the lives of those who have done such atrocities to other human beings, but my conscience tells me that we should not try to accelerate mortality for the sake of morality.
Death might be a final solution, but it is not an effective or permanent solution to crime, however horrible those acts may be. Rape, murder, and many other things might be argued to deserve this execution of justice in a conclusive manner, but I don’t see how this really addresses the issue of crime as a whole committed by people in the future or even as we speak. Killing criminals here and now will only stop killing for a time before more killings are committed. Premeditated or otherwise, the mindset of someone intent on doing such things is not so much whether they’re caught, but how to get away with it. Capital punishment of this degree is not a deterrent to criminals, especially when you consider that they may not even value their own life if they think others’ lives are fodder to them. When you claim it’s effective to kill people for crimes that may require it ethically is like making the comparison to amputating an arm that has irreparable damage. The limb is part of a body, while individual humans are part of a community that can function without them directly in it. Of course these people shouldn’t be treated as those who do lesser crimes of theft or the like, but giving them basic dignity, as terrible as they may be, is as ethical as punishing them is a basic ethical prerogative. And regardless of if you think criminals deserve to be treated as humans, does it make sense in any way to prevent others from being killed by completely different assailants by eliminating an assailant that, barring escape, is unable to kill others if incarcerated. The mere possibility of them escaping should weigh less heavily on your conscience than the fact that you decided they weren’t permitted to live anymore.
While it may cost significant taxpayer money to keep prisoners in jail, it is preferable to killing them and trying to take mortality into our own hands and play a proverbial God. And this is nothing compared to the shared guilt the entire country would share if the person executed happened to be innocent because of a rushed trial and ruling. There could be streamlining of the process and the benefits involved with prisoners, to say nothing of decriminalizing marijuana and giving different punishments for misdemeanors, such as forced community service or the like. The idea that the punishment should fit the crime can be taken too literally. Perhaps a better principle would be severity of punishment fitting severity of the crime, but it still could be interpreted to take retributive justice instead of rehabilitative justice, where the criminals, in many cases, can be improved with some form of treatment or otherwise letting them stew in their guilt and see the gravity of their crimes.
I know this seems very passive, but in terms of ethics, we cannot always be proactive in solutions, especially if they’re intended to be expedient instead of effective. Efficiency doesn’t always mean haste. And even speed is not essential to solving the persistent problem of crime, since it likely takes a generation or two to make lasting change on how people regard the desirability of actions like stealing or assault. Time heals wounds of both a personal and societal nature. You move on past someone’s death by mourning, you prevent crime by showing the inherent issues with it. When you start using the threat of death to motivate people to restrain themselves, you’re using fear as the impetus, which is only useful so long as people continue to fear. When they either abandon or overcome that fear, you no longer have the power you possessed before in terms of rule of law. People should avoid being both illegal and immoral in their behavior. It shouldn’t be merely the consequences of their actions as regards law enforcement, but their own conscience that makes them contemplate whether to go through with it or not. Until next time, Namaste and aloha.