The Changing Nature of Death Penalty Debates

The Changing Nature of Death Penalty Debates



The Changing Nature of Death Penalty Debates


The death penalty debate has continued since twenty five years ago. As a result of the arguments that have been made about the nature of the death penalty, there have been changes in seven specific areas which include innocence, retribution, deterrence, incapacitation, cost, caprice and bias. The recent social science research findings have brought different opinions on the nature of death penalty and the analysis indicates that the social science scholarships have changed the way the Americans perceive the death penalty. In particular, when the American revisited from the past, the analysis indicated that the Americans have been making gradual changes towards complete elimination of the capital punishment.

The Theory of the Penalty Debate

He gradual changes in the nature of death penalty began in 1972, when the United States Supreme Court declared a few of the death penalty statutes to be unconstitutional. As a result of these changes, 630 inmates who were on death rows were resentenced to life imprisonment. Most of the court official considered the opinion never to witness execution again. Among the other inmates that were exempted from the death rows included 65 juveniles whose conviction to death penalties predated their birthdays. The reason for the need from the Supreme Court to reverse the statutes on capital punishment was because of the increasing number of inmates that had been executed under the high rates of the courts proceeding with the conviction for the death penalty. Initially, the public debated relied on the aspects of religious principles, deterrence, and cost. In additional, in the last 25 five years, racial, bias and the tendency to execute the innocent was inevitable. With the changing debate from public opinions and debates, the social science has been at the centre of the emerging reforms (Radelet & Borg, 2000).

The article focus is on the dimensions that were implemented by the Supreme Court as a result of integration of the social science research on the nature of capital punishment that was being imposed on the American inmates.


The public opinion over the past 25 years has vacillated. According to the data that was collected by Gallop polls, statistics indicated that there majority of the people from the public advocated capital punishment as the suitable way of executing the convicted inmates. For instance, a data that was collected from Gallop polls in 1980 showed in an estimate two third of the Americans were in support of the death penalty. The Gallop polls were conducted in surveys by collecting opinions from the public on how they perceived the death penalty. In 1991, about 76 percent of the Americans supported death penalty. The rates fluctuated until a Florida poll show that the rate had dropped to 63 percent (Radelet & Borg, 2000).


As the article reveals, the nature of death penalty that was imposed on the American inmates was conditional. Further fluctuations in the death probe were found to be influenced by the way people discussed the issue, particularly due to the examinations from social science research on how the different death penalties affected the social welfare of the individual under death rows.

Among the key aspects of social science on the death penalty was the deterrence. Deterrent worked in three ways: celerity, certainty and severity. However, all these methods of deterrent were found not to be the best forms of punishment; instead, criminologists preferred long-term imprisonment as the most appropriate approach to deterrent since it was more severe than the three aforementioned ways. Incapacitation and as was perceived in the past, heinous killers were executes in order to prevent them from killing again. After research, it was found that the odds of recidivists’ murders and even in prison homicides were low; instead, such criminals made positive adjustments in their social behaviors compared to the other inmates that were charged with felony. On caprice and bias, research, initially, more whites that blacks were convicted to death penalty on the inference that they were more likely to kill a black person than the reverse. However, after 1998 opinion polls, people suggested suspects to be convicted on the basis on the compelling evidence and case study methodology. In addition the tendency for the courts to impose the death penalty on a person on the basis of cost and miscarriage of justice, have has changed to other to other lenient measures such as retribution and the trend towards abolition. As a result of the United Nations, the death penalty has been revised under the international treaties and the UN Commission of Human Rights; to introduce other suitable ways such as amnesty and parole.


The goal of the paper was to examine the six aspects of social science research that has changes the way people view the death penalty for over the last 50 years in the American history. As the article has indicated, the death penalty has been reduced to long-term life imprisonment and in the recent administration of justice, to lesser punishments such as the amnesty and parole.


Radelet, M.L., & Borg, M.J. (2000). The changing nature of death penalty debates. Annual

Review of Sociology, 26, 43-61.

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