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Final Blog: Examining the Death Penalty’s Effectiveness, Morality, and Constitutionality


The death penalty is an extremely controversial issue all over the world, but especially in the United States. Though more than half of Americans surveyed said that they supported the death penalty in 2013, support for it is continuing to decline over the years (Saad, 2013). The Supreme Court has continuously ruled that the death penalty is constitutional and should continue to be in use (Mott, 2015), despite the large amount of research showing it’s ineffectiveness. Aside from the death penalty simply not being an effective method to deter crime, it’s immoral for our own justice system to purposefully take human lives. Unfortunately, until society’s interpretation of the constitution changes or enough people stop supporting the death penalty, it will continue to be used as a way to deter crime and punish capital criminals, even if it doesn’t work well at all.

You’d think with the large amount of support that the death penalty has, it would also significantly help in stopping capital crimes. Clearly, however, the general public is uninformed and is basing their decisions on the death penalty off of false perceptions and facts. One study surveyed many top criminologists on whether or not they believed the evidence around the death penalty showed that it deterred capital crime, and they all agreed that it did not (Radelet, 2010). If the experts’ opinion isn’t enough for you, then maybe statistics can show this. For more than 20 years, states that use the death penalty have actually had a higher rate of murder than states that do not use the death penalty (Deterrence, 2015). In 2013, the murder rate for states that used the death penalty was 4.72%, and the murder rate for states that did not use the death penalty was 3.88% (Deterrence, 2015). So, not only does the death penalty not have a significant effect in deterring capital crime, it seems that it may have a reverse effect and make capital crime worse (Deterrence, 2015). Here’s a graph showing the murder rates in states with and without the death penalty over the last few years:


Unfortunately, for the death penalty to really deter criminals from committing murder, offenders would need to really think through the crime they were going to commit and carefully weigh all of the costs and benefits (Donohue, 2009). Another study showed that offenders typically think a lot more about the rewards of committing crime than the costs, and even when they do think about the costs, they think more short term (getting arrested) than they do long term (getting the death penalty) (Donohue, 2009). Aside from the death penalty being simply ineffective, it’s also immoral.


This picture makes a great point. How does it make sense to try and stop murder by murdering someone who murders? If we can all agree that murder is wrong and immoral, than we should all be able to agree that it is equally wrong and immoral to take another human being’s life as punishment. Some people argue that the death penalty is the only punishment that’s proportional to capital crime, but life long prison sentences without parole may be enough (Kohlberg, 2010). This way, the offender can think about what they’ve done their whole life (Kohlberg, 2010). Giving them the death penalty would simply end their suffering and punishment, and would really only punish their loved ones and society who got to see the state kill another human being (Kohlberg, 2010). And think about this: what if, in the off chance, the person getting the death penalty was innocent? A recent study found that 4% of people on death row are innocent (Gross, 2014). Some of these people are proven innocent and released, but some are not, and it’s not like the death penalty is reversible (Gross, 2014). Even if our justice system is 99% sure that a person is guilty of a capital crime, they can never be entirely sure (Gross, 2014). Is the death penalty really worth it with that small possibility of innocence? I don’t think so. Nobody should have to die at the hands of the state, regardless of their actions. Even with the death penalty’s ineffectiveness and immorality, the Supreme Court has ruled it constitutional time and time again, and this is why it still continues today.


The Eighth Amendment states that no punishment for crime can be too “cruel” or “unusual,” and the death penalty has never been deemed either of these things (Mott, 2015). Some people have questioned whether or not it is somewhat unusual in the way that it’s administered since a disproportionate number of minorities are given the death penalty (Kohlberg, 2010). However, since the death penalty is technically a proportional punishment for capital crime, the majority of people don’t seem to think that it’s too “cruel” or “unusual.” Additionally, the Fifth Amendment says that we all have the right to life (and a few other things), but there is a statement that specifically addresses capital crime, saying that nobody can be deprived of life by the state without due process of the law (Richardson, 2013). Some people argue that if the Founding Fathers were against the death penalty, why would they need to include a clause that implies that a person could be deprived of life by the state, as long as there was due process of the law (Richardson, 2013)? As it stands today, our society is interpreting the constitution in a way that says that the death penalty is okay (Mott, 2015). If we were to change our views on what is “cruel” and “unusual,” or interpret the Fifth Amendment in a different way, the death penalty may not be allowed anymore (Mott, 2015).

Overall, the death penalty is extremely ineffective and may actually have a reverse effect on deterring capital crime. It’s also immoral for the state to take another human being’s life, but unfortunately the death penalty is constitutional and will continue to be seen this way unless society changes the way we interpret and understand the constitution.


Deterrence: States without the death penalty have had consistently lower murder rates. (2015). Retrieved December 14, 2015, from

Donohue, J. (2009). The impact of the death penalty on murder. Criminology & Public Policy, 8(4), 795-801. Retrieved December 10, 2015, from EBSCO.

Gross, S., O’brien, B., Hu, C., & Kennedy, E. (2014). Rate of false conviction of criminal defendants who are sentenced to death. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 7230-7235. Retrieved December 10, 2015, from

Kohlberg, L., & Elfenbein, D. (2010). The development of moral judgements concerning capital punishment. American Journal of Orthopychiatry, 45(4); 614-640. Retrieved December 14, 2015, from Wiley Online Library.

Mott, J. (2015). Is the death penalty constitutional? Retrieved December 14, 2015, from

Radelet, M., & Lacock, T. (2009). Do executions lower homicide rates?: The views of leading criminologists. The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 99(2). Retrieved December 10, 2015, from ProQuest.

Richardson, W. (2013). Is the death penalty unconstitutional? Retrieved December 14, 2015, from

Saad, L. (2013, January 9). U.S. death penalty support stable at 63%. Retrieved December 14, 2015, from




Race and Gender in Our Perception of Mental Illness in Criminals


I’m sure you are all familiar will the Charleston shooting that happened in June this year. If not, here’s a summary of it from Wikipedia:

Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown CharlestonSouth Carolina, United States. During a prayer service, nine people were killed by a gunman, including the senior pastor, state senator Clementa C. Pinckney; a tenth victim survived. The morning after the attack, police arrested a suspect, later identified as 21-year-old Dylann Roof, in Shelby, North Carolina. Roof later confessed that he committed the shooting in hopes of igniting a race war.”




The media was quick to call Dylann Roof “mentally ill,” claiming he needed help. Do a quick google search and at least half of the hits on the first page are questioning whether or not Dylann Roof is mentally ill. This isn’t to say that he didn’t have some type of mental illness, but if a black person was to commit the same crime, I doubt the media and society would have been so quick to call them mentally ill. They more likely would have been called criminal, a thug, a terrorist, or anything but “mentally ill.” So, did the media’s immediate assumption that he was mentally ill have anything to do with the fact that he was a white man? I think so, and so do a lot of others. Titles of a few articles on the topic after a quick google search were, “It’s Not About Mental Illness: The Big Lie That Always Follows Mass Shootings by White Males,” “Racism is Not a Mental Illness,” and “Shooters of Color are Called Terrorists and Thugs, Why are White Shooters Called Mentally Ill?” There’s clearly a lot of controversy over calling this young man mentally ill right off the bat. Is this a problem for you?

Take a look at some tweets shared by people who were against labeling Dylann Roof as mentally ill right after this tragic event (keep in mind – this isn’t about whether or not he was later found to have a mental illness, because yes, obviously white people can have mental illnesses…This is about the media and society’s immediate jump to call him mentally ill based on his race and gender).









This topic led me to do a little research and think a little deeper about how race and gender may affect our perceptions of mental illness, and how this can affect people in the criminal justice system.

According to the US HHS Office of Minority Health, black people are 20% more likely to report that they have serious psychological distress than white people. This is because they are more likely to live in poverty and crime ridden, violent areas. Even then, they are less likely than white people to be assessed for mental illness after committing a crime. According to “Gender, Race, and Mental Illness in the Criminal Justice System,” (Melissa Thompson, link:  “Violent women, for example, are more likely to be evaluated for psychiatric conditions, while African-American men are less likely to receive psychiatric evaluation.” This quote is in reference to the courts, where it is decided whether or not a criminal should be evaluated for mental illness or if they should just receive punishment. I think, and most people would probably support this, that minorities are more likely to be considered “thugs” or “terrorists” before and after committing crimes, whereas whites are more likely to be considered “disturbed” or “mentally ill.” In addition, I think that women are more likely to be perceived as mentally ill than men are. These biases can have serious effects on a person’s life after they commit a crime. Consider a young teenage black boy who has grown up in poverty. His mother is addicted to drugs and his father was shot and killed a year ago. All of his friends and older siblings are involved in a local gang. In these conditions (or similar conditions), which are a reality for many minority youths in America, it is easy to see how a person could develop some type of mental illness. Instead of considering the environment these people grow up in and may be involved in, society just chalks these individuals up to be violent criminals when a crime is committed. But when a white person commits the same crime, we are more likely to consider them disturbed or mentally ill. Even before a person commits a crime we may have biases that lead us to believe if they will or will not commit a crime, and if they did, what their motives behind it may be. If a person is genuinely mentally ill and this was the story behind their crime, but they are seen as simply a criminal, they may not be referred to psychological evaluation and just given punishment. This type of person (and probably society, too) would definitely benefit a lot more from mental health treatment, but instead they may be locked up. Also, since women may be more likely to be considered mentally ill after a crime, and men may just be brushed off as criminal, this could leave men without the proper care and treatment they deserve if they are truly mentally ill. This could also send a woman into mental health treatment when in reality she just deserves punishment. Yes, women are more likely to have a mental illness. Minorities are also more likely to have a mental illness because of the poor conditions they live in. So, in this case, are mentally ill women receiving more of the treatment they need after criminal acts than men are? Are minorities not receiving the treatment they may need if they are written off as “thugs” or “terrorists?” If so, does this perpetuate sexism against both genders and racism against minorities? Just because men are less likely to develop a mental illness does not mean that they cannot develop one.  Also, just because the majority of people living in poor, impoverished conditions are not white does not mean that white people cannot develop a mental illness. These biases that history, society, and the media have created are contributing to an unequal justice system that isn’t getting everyone the care and treatment they may need, and possibly forcing people into psychological treatment that they DON’T need. We may be locking up people who are truly mentally ill who would benefit a lot more from treatment, and we may also be passing off people as mentally ill when they aren’t. Race and gender should have nothing to do with referrals for mental health treatment or who society views as mentally ill or simply a “thug” or “terrorist,” but unfortunately they do.


Are we more likely to assume some offenders are just mentally ill after committing a crime over other offenders because of certain biases we hold? Consider race and gender. What might some of these biases be? Why do we have these biases in the first place? What role does the media play in creating these biases? What role might history play?

Who is in charge of deciding whether a person should be assessed for mental illness or simply given punishment after a crime? Is this just the court’s job? Does society’s opinion on certain races and genders affect the court’s view on whether or not a person deserves to be evaluated for mental illness?  Do we need to consider the individual’s living conditions and surroundings when deciding whether or not they deserve mental health evaluation?