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Mar 19 2017
by Julian Maceren

4 Things College Students Should Know About the Death Penalty

By Julian Maceren - Mar 19 2017

"Is death ever justified?" This is a question that has divided America for years and has made the death penalty a controversial issue to discuss. Proponents argue that a punishment of death is appropriate for the most heinous crimes because it sends a message to potential criminals to think about their actions more carefully. Opponents range from religious leaders to pacifists, who argue that death is immoral, no matter what the crime is.

According to, there has been a growing decline in support for the death penalty. However, a majority of Americans are still in favor of it. Here are four things students should know about the death penalty.

1. Not much is actually known about its effects on crime.

One argument against the death penalty is that harsh punishments deter future crimes. According to Dr. David Muhlhausen, studies show that there is a link between executions and reduced murder rates. On the other hand, Dr. John J. Donohue III, a law professor at Stanford University, explains that there is no credible evidence that capital punishments reduce homicide. He argues that it’s highly unlikely that executions would deter a sociopath because they don’t commit crimes thinking they’ll be caught, so they’re not likely to trouble themselves with thinking of the punishment.

Florida State Attorney Aramis Ayala also announced her opposition to the death penalty because she finds that the “the death penalty had failed as a deterrent, drained public resources and made promises to family members of murders victims that the system could not keep.” Ultimately, there is dispute against the evidence, with some sources saying there is a link between the death penalty and reduced crime, while others claim there isn’t.

2. The Death Penalty is costly.

The death penalty is far more costly than a system using life sentences as the most severe punishment. For example, in New Mexico, bringing back the death penalty for just three types of homicides would cost $7.2 million over the first three years. A study in Nevada showed that a death penalty case costs about half a million dollars more than a non-death penalty case. In California, Judge Arthur Alarcon and Professor Paula Mitchell found that since 1978, the death penalty has cost the state $4 billion.

3. The United States is ranked 5th in executions internationally.

According to a report from Amnesty International, the U.S. holds the 5th most executions -- just behind China, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. The U.S. is currently the only Western country that uses the death penalty. However, in 2014, there were 49 new death sentences, which was the lowest since 1976.

4. The Colosseum changes its lights in protest of capital punishment.

For most times of the year, the Colosseum in Rome glows with bright, white lights. On November 29, 2012, it switched to a vivid gold. What was this momentous occasion? It was to celebrate the repeal of the death penalty in Colorado. 

Since 2000, campaigns promoted by Italian human rights groups urged that the lights be changed from white to gold on the Colosseum every time a death sentence is carried out or if a nation abolishes the death penalty. This symbolic representation stems from signals emperors used to indicate someone would be saved, and sends a powerful message against the use of death penalty as a form of punishment.

Although the death penalty is unlikely to personally affect many college students, it is still important to be informed on the arguments within the debate since it is an increasingly prominent political issue.

Lead Image Credit: Henry Bush via Flickr Creative Commons

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Julian Maceren - University of Rochester

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