The capital punishment
The capital punishment - The death penalty is the most controversial penal practice in the modern world. Other harsh, physical forms of criminal punishment—referred to as corporal punishment—have generally been eliminated in modern times as uncivilized and unnecessary.
The capital punishment - In the majority of countries, contemporary methods of punishment—such as imprisonment or fines—no longer involve the infliction of physical pain (see Corporal Punishment). Although imprisonment and fines are universally recognized as necessary to the control of crime, the nations of the world are split on the issue of capital punishment. About 80 nations have abolished the death penalty and an almost equal number of nations (most of which are developing countries) retain it.
The trend in most industrialized nations has been to first stop executing prisoners and then to substitute long terms of imprisonment for death as the most severe of all criminal penalties. The United States is an important exception to this trend. The federal government and a majority of U.S. states provide for the death penalty, and from 50 to 75 executions occur each year throughout the United States.
II THE DEATH PENALTY DEBATE
The practice of capital punishment is as old as government itself. For most of history, it has not been considered controversial. Since ancient times most governments have punished a wide variety of crimes by death and have conducted executions as a routine part of the administration of criminal law.
However, in the mid-18th century, social commentators in Europe began to emphasize the worth of the individual and to criticize government practices they considered unjust, including capital punishment. The controversy and debate over whether governments should utilize the death penalty continue today.
The first significant movement to abolish the death penalty began during the era known as the Age of Enlightenment. In 1764 Italian jurist and philosopher Cesare Beccaria published Tratto dei delitti e delle pene (1764; translated as Essay on Crimes and Punishments, 1880). Many consider this influential work the leading document in the early campaign against capital punishment.
Other individuals who campaigned against executions during this period include French authors Voltaire and Denis Diderot, British philosophers David Hume and Adam Smith, and political theorist Thomas Paine in the United States.
Critics of capital punishment contend that it is brutal and degrading, while supporters consider it a necessary form of retribution (revenge) for terrible crimes. Those who advocate the death penalty assert that it is a uniquely effective punishment that deters crime. However, advocates and opponents of the death penalty dispute the proper interpretation of statistical analyses of its deterrent effect.
Opponents of capital punishment see the death penalty as a human rights issue involving the proper limits of governmental power. In contrast, those who want governments to continue to execute tend to regard capital punishment as an issue of criminal justice policy. Because of these alternative viewpoints, there is a profound difference of opinion not only about what is the right answer on capital punishment, but about what type of question is being asked when the death penalty becomes a public issue.
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