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Twenty billion dollars. This is the amount of money we once paid annually for prisons. That may sound like an absurd amount, but what’s even crazier is the fact that this amount has quadrupled since 1980. Since the cost of prison is a cause and effect relationship, it is only rational to assume that this increase is due to a severe rise in arrests. Luckily, there is a way to ensure the safety of everyone in our country, slow the rise in costs, and free up space in prison. That way is death penalty, the most sensible, cost-effective solution to violent crime in today’s world, which is the focus of this research paper.
Firstly, capital punishment saves money that could be used to go towards better things. From 1984-2005, a new prison facility was being built about every 8.5 days. This is largely due to the 300 percent increase in incarcerated violent offenders between 1980-2013. If we had used capital punishment on even some of these violent offenders, it would have reduced the amount of new facilities needed, and in turn, the amount of money taxpayers would have had to pay. It would conserve space, along with resources such as food. Even simple things such as heating and air conditioning would be eliminated, along with the pollutive byproducts. By accepting capital punishment as a legitimate option going forward, we can save space, money, and resources. According to a prison survey done in 2017 by Prisonpolicy.org, two-thirds of responders said they hadn’t received mental or behavioral counseling while in federal prison. Of those who did, less than half said they found it helpful. By utilizing the money we currently use to build new facilities, we can reform mental and behavioral counseling systems in prison. This will greatly benefit both inmates and people in our general world, because inmates not serving life sentences will then be doing better mentally once they get back into the real world. Doing this would help our prison system go from incarceration facilities to rehabilitation centers. Many people argue that since the cost of capital punishment is more expensive than life in prison, we should abolish capital punishment. While the costs of the two options individually support that claim, it is the indirect payments that are the primary concern. There are many aspects of the prison system that need reforming, and they will almost certainly cost money to change. By using death penalty more strategically to reduce the need for new prisons, we can work on improving conditions for inmates not serving life sentences, and inmates serving life sentences for nonviolent reasons. Mental health issues are a problem in our country, which makes it a problem in our prisons. By helping solve these types of issues, we can move a step closer to a reformed system.
While we’re on the topic of mental health, life imprisonment decreases safety in prison for reasons related to mental and behavioral health. According to The Sentencing Project, 1 out of 7 prisoners is serving a life sentence. Twenty percent of all inmates have been in solitary confinement, and Psychologists of the Wright Institute have found that solitary confinement causes detrimental psychological effects. If we take that information and think about it, we can assume that many people serving life sentences have been or are in solitary confinement. The fact that solitary confinement causes long term mental problems means that it probably also worsens existing ones, and since we can all agree that mental health issues cause a majority of violence, that should scare us. It should scare us because since not many people are kept in solitary confinement their entire sentence, this endangers the other prisoners. Prisoners who may not have committed violent crimes, but rather property or drug offenses. Even if someone serving a life sentence hasn’t been in solitary confinement, most of them receive such a high sentence for good reason. Take Jaime Osuna for example. Jaime received a life sentence for the torture and murder of a mother of six, someone he didn’t even know. He was recently accused of beheading and dismembering his cellmate, which he proudly owned up to. He has bragged about his killings, calling himself sadistic and saying if he could go back he’d do it again and again. He has said that torturing and killing gives him a rush. He has also talked about how he tortured and killed animals as a small child, and that he killed two people around age thirteen. Jaime’s case, horrifying as it is, clearly illustrates that life imprisonment isn’t the equally safe alternative to capital punishment that many people think it is. Jaime is an example of a person so broken he will be a threat to society no matter where he is. The only solution to end his path of violence, since he has vowed never to stop killing, is to end him. Because ultimately, the main purpose of the death penalty is to protect society from dangerous people. Some people say that life sentences actually are a safe alternative to the death penalty. While solitary confinement does exist, prisoners aren’t in solitary confinement their whole prison life, and as I have explained, it does more harm than good. Prisoners are also housed in pairs if they’re serving a life sentence, which seems completely illogical. If you put two killers in the same room, and multiply that situation many times, there are bound to be some instances of murder. Worse, if a prisoner is in solitary confinement for a period of time and is then put into the coupled prison cell common for life imprisoned inmates, that increases the risk. Prison isn’t a safe place under any standards, but by replacing the most severe cases of life imprisonment with capital punishment, we can make it safer.
In the world we live in today, with rising rates of crime, the best actions we can take against it is protecting people from existing, unreformable criminals like Jaime, and preventing future criminal actions. Since capital punishment completes all of these actions, both directly and indirectly, it is the right answer. Our criminal justice system needs reformation. This is known by all people. But change won’t happen with the snap of a finger, so we need to use the tools we have today to improve tomorrow.
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