The Death Penalty Promotes Cruel and Unusual Punishment

Avery Cook, Staff Writer

Cruel and unusual punishment is defined as torture, degrading, and too harsh for the crime committed according to The Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary. 1,543 convicts have been executed in the United States since 1973 according to the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI). EJI also tells us that for every nine people executed on death row, one is exonerated. Is it truly just “an eye for an eye” if the system taking these lives is so flawed?

The first example of Cruel and Unusual Punishment being outlawed was in the English Bill of Rights (1698) stating, “excessive bail ought not to be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” This was later ratified and added to the United States Constitution as the Eighth Amendment in 1791. Alongside this amendment, the death penalty has existed dating back to the execution of Captain George Kendall in the Jamestown colony of 1608. The legality of the death penalty was challenged in the supreme court in 1976. The Gregg v. Georgia Case reinstated the death penalty. 

The death penalty has been proven to be biased numerous times. According to the EJI, 41% of people on death row are African American. This is incredibly startling given that only 13% of the population is African American. In Louisiana, The Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) has found that there is a 97% higher chance of a death sentence for those whose victims were white versus those whose victims were black. The death penalty not only has a history of racial bias, but also ableism. Before such executions were banned in 2002, at least 44 people with intellectual disabilities were executed on death row, according to the EJI. A system that is very clearly targetting minorities in America cannot be left to carry on. Our government is supposed to work to undo the racism that our country was built upon, not continue to maintain it.

A common argument in favor of the death penalty is that it keeps dangerous people out of our society, therefore it must lower crime rates. This is simply not true. The DPIC states that the south accounts for 80% of executions on death row. Yet according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the states with the highest homicide rates, besides the nation’s capital, were Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama, southern states. The DPIC also states that the northeast is responsible for fewer than 0.5% of death row executions, and the CDC found that two of the three states with the lowest homicide rates, Maine and Massachusetts, are northeast states. If the death penalty is proven to not efficiently protect citizens, how can we justify that the DPIC found that in Texas, the state responsible for the most executions on death row, it costs an average of $2.3 million to maintain a death penalty case? This is about three times the cost of holding a prisoner in a single cell in a maximum-security prison for 40 years.

How is it that cruel and unusual punishment has been outlawed in the United States for decades, yet it is still prevalent in our justice system today? Taking someone’s life, someone who could be innocent, is too harsh, regardless of the crime committed. This isn’t to say that the people committing these terrible crimes don’t deserve to be punished, they do. But how can we justify taking their lives when there is a chance of their innocence? Not only this but the possibility that they are on death row due to racial bias or ableism. What about the botched executions that the DPIC has estimated made up 3% of executions in the United States from 1890 to 2010. Is that not cruel and unusual? Not only is the death penalty an expensive and flawed system, but it is also immoral. In a country that is supposed to be built on freedom, the government holds the power to take its citizens’ lives. Until this issue is properly addressed, the United States will remain in violation of its constitutional values.