Yesterday Joseph Paul Franklin has been executed for his crimes, including 22 murders and an attempted murder. No doubt this will spur another debate about the death penalty, especially since a Gallup poll just 3 weeks ago showed support for capital punishment at 60%, the lowest rate in over 40 years. The EU has carefully managed to invalidate all debate on the issue by implementing a moratorium, ensuring nobody would be sentenced to death in the EU (although public opinion on the matter is far more divided than that of the political elite).
There are a couple of arguments against the death penalty, the best one in my opinion being that there is a possibility of errors. But that is not really an argument against the punishment – it is an argument against the system. The other is that for taking a human life the state would be no better than the killers it executes. There is also a strong religious component there (“who are we to judge?”), but to me there is a significant difference between taking the life of an innocent person for one’s own gain or pleasure versus taking the life of someone who preys on the innocent in order to protect society and us all as citizens.
Although rehabilitation of criminals is a noble undertaking, it does not always apply and it does not always do justice to the pain and trouble already caused. Life-long prison sentences are not aimed at rehabilitation either, and yet these are considered civilized and are enforced by many countries. The question is: can all criminals be rehabilitated? And even if so, does the possible rehabilitation of all criminals always outweigh the protection of society and the feelings of the victims and their loved ones? There are psychopaths and sexual predators who never show any remorse, even after years of imprisonment. Should they be allowed back into society? Can we be certain that they won’t harm anyone again? Is it acceptable that the victims and their family may be confronted with these people in their own neighborhood?
No doubt there are more good arguments for and against the death penalty, but I want to make this a philosophical issue much rather than a political one. As such, the fallibility of the current system should be viewed separately from the question whether death is a fitting punishment for any crime.
The most obvious parties involved in a crime are the perpetrator and the victim. There is also an acknowledged backlash on society, making that the third party (police, courts and law makers become parties after the crime and can be viewed as representatives for society). Every crime is not just an interaction between criminal and victim – all of society and, by extension, all of mankind is affected. How much time, energy and resources do we spend on protecting ourselves against crime, fighting crime, punishing criminals and offering support to the victims?
Crime is as old as civilization itself and although the majority of people must realize that a society where all of our interests are in perfect balance with each other would be most beneficial to all of us, an ever increasing number of people cross the line into the savagery of this destructive, anti-social behavior. They do not just rob themselves of a dignified existence, they rob mankind as a species of an opportunity to rise above materialism and paranoia, for crime forces the civilized to protect their belongings and personal wellbeing. As long as crime exists, we will all be spending a large amount of energy defending ourselves against the bad that might otherwise be directed towards doing good. It is because of this unseen but enormous impact on the future of our societies and our species that there should be no mercy for hardened criminals and repeat offenders. Removal of the threat must always come before rehabilitation of the perpetrator, because every crime committed does not just affect the victim – it victimizes all of mankind by stumping its progress.