General Question

mattbrowne's avatar

Is 65 years or more in prison a more severe punishment than the dealth penalty?

Asked by mattbrowne (31600points) April 24th, 2009

From Wikipedia: Opponents of the death penalty often state one or more of the following reasons as the basis for their opposition: the possibility of the execution of an innocent person; the lack of deterrence of violent crime; and opposition to the death penalty based on a moral or religious basis.

Supporters of the death penalty often state one or more of the following reasons as the basis for their support: the deterrence of violent crime; closure to the families and friends of the victim (in practice, the death penalty is used almost exclusively to punish convicted murderers); and the belief that a temporary prison sentence is not effective punishment for such an act.

In the United States of America, the use of capital punishment is generally accepted, with the conservative Republican Party in support of it, as well as most members of the varyingly centrist Democratic Party. The Green Party, a liberal third party, is opposed to its use. Recent polling indicated that well over half of the American population supports the death penalty as an appropriate punishment for murdering another individual.

The brutalizing effect, also known as the brutalization hypothesis, argues that the death penalty has a brutalizing or coarsening effect either upon society or those officials and jurors involved in a criminal justice system which imposes it. It is usually argued that this is because it sends out a message that it is acceptable to kill in some circumstances, or due to the societal disregard for the ‘sanctity of life’. An extension of this argument is that the brutalizing effect of the death penalty may even be responsible for increasing the number of murders in jurisdictions in which it is practiced.

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61 Answers

willbrawn's avatar

I think its pretty harsh, when they get out of prison, they will have nothing. And that would hurt bad.

Jude's avatar

Good question. I’ve thought about that before and I truly can’t give you an answer. I think that both would be rather severe. Knowing that you’re going to die and the fear/anxiety of dying (the dying process) would be hard. And, staying in prison for 65 years having to think about what you’d done and having your freedom taken away from you is hard, as well.

IchtheosaurusRex's avatar

“Hell of a thing, to kill a man. You take away everything he has, and everything he’s ever gonna have.” – from the film Unforgiven, starring Clint Eastwood.

No, it is not more severe than the death penalty. Nothing is.

Qingu's avatar

I’d rather die than spend 65 years in prison.

Not that I support the death penalty. Though I do think euthanasia for life-sentenced prisoners should be options (well, euthanasia for everyone else should also be optional).

BookReader's avatar

…i lean heavily towards Qinqu’s position- at least until humanity catches onto the concept of holistic solutions…

avalmez's avatar

actually, i do think it is more severea a form of prolonged torture in fact – and, i do not condone torture. but, i tread the fence on this one.

When it comes to criminals like Hitler, or Saddam, or Bin Laden, I sometimes think execution is justifiable not necessarily because it does anything to increase humanity or is rightful vengeance for their victims. but, i think it’s justifiable because if nothing else, it removes the possibiity of theim rising to power again.

i mean, think about this scenario – Saddam remains alive in some prison, allied forces prematurely leave Iraq to fend for itself, and, after awhile, the country (undoubtedly) sinks into bedlam and guess who comes back to power? Not an inevitable outcome i know, but certainly not an improbable scenario if the thug is sitting in a cell somewhere. You’ve seen the news clips of some Iraqi stating life was better under Saddam, haven’t you?

So i can think of scenarios where execution seems justified. Another justification some resort to is that execution is ecnomically more efficient than feeding and caring for someone for decades. i don’t buy this one because at least in our system the judicial steps that are mandatory in most cases before someone can be executed are very expensive themselves and add to that the extra steps defense lawyers willl take and you’re spending probably millions to put someone to death. I’m sure Saddam’s case was relatively cheap, though.

in any case, it’s clear the death penalty has issues and so maybe in the general case should be outlawed simply because of those issues. i’d still hate to see a guys like Hitler or Bin Laden left lying around some place where they continued to pose a potential threat.

(sorry about editing – new contacts)

oratio's avatar

Capital Punishment obviously don’t deter, and I have difficulty seeing how being dead is a punishment. When it comes to deterrence, it doesn’t matter what punishment you give to a person, since no person who commits a crime plans to get caught. 5 years, 50 years, decapitation. It doesn’t matter. Committing crimes has to have consequences for the criminal, but I wonder where the benefit is of keeping a person in jail for 60 years.

Crusader's avatar

65 year and death penalty are both Very expensive propositions what with gyards, food, appeals, $50,000 per year.
I say give the lifers a plot of land well secured, wit periodic food drops, loke the Kiry Russel movie in future New York…

avalmez's avatar

@oratio well, there are those who think in terms of rehabilitation rather than punishment and in which case 5 years, 10 years, would be something like a behavior modification technique.

but, of course, i digress since the issue here is capital punishment which obviously does not fit the rehabilitation category (unless you subscribe to a reincarnation scheme in which case perhaps being decapitated in one life will deter future bad behavior in a subsequent life – yeah, i should alomst apologise for this parenthetical comment).

i do believe i make a case above for deterrence, not of others, but of the convicted.

DREW_R's avatar

Not any more. People I have talked to, that were incarcerated, say the only thing missing is women from having a close to normal life.

oratio's avatar

@avalmez Oh I quite agree. I just made a short comment there. If I would have developed that, I would have written about rehabilitation as well. But if it’s going to be possible to deter convicts from doing a crime again, he must be able to have a life to look forward to. Spending 65 years in prison is not deterrence, it’s taking his life away. Convicting people to sentences like that makes me wonder if it wouldn’t be more humane to shot them against a wall instead.

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

At least a life in prison is still a life. The person still has a chance to turn it around and make a positive contribution to the world in some way even if they are never to be released. If we kill them there’s no chance.

avalmez's avatar

@DREW_R i’m sure such prisons exist but am equally certain they are more the exception than the rule. and even in such prisons, the alternative inmates resort to in the absence of women would be terrible enough for me (not that there’s anything wrong with it, just not my bag and nothing i would ever want imposed upon me either). that’s only one reason why i keep my ass clean and outta jail!

avalmez's avatar

@oratio thanks for the link. an interesting thread i missed while outta town, but good response in that related thread

Jack79's avatar

I don’t think the question is comparing similar things.

Are you asking whether we are for or against the death penalty? I’m against, mainly for the reasons you mention. The biggest problem I have with it is that it is irreversible, so even if you have a 1% chance of convicting the wrong person, it’s still a huge problem that you cannot bring them back to life and apologise. I think the latest number in the US is over 200 people who were accidentally executed and later found innocent.

The 65-year-sentence is one of many prison sentences. It could be 300 years, or simply life. Depending on the age of the convict, even 10 years could effectively mean life imprisonment. The difference is that, even an enormous sentence could later be either shortened (in most countries only by 1/3) or the convict could be released due to new evidence, or a pardon or something. Of course he could also escape and go on a killing spree. So it’s always tricky.

Blondesjon's avatar

It is very seldom that a convict spends that long in prison. Even a life sentence is commutable. The victim and the family don’t get any kind of parole from their loss. If you take a life you should be fully prepared to have your own taken in the bargain.

DREW_R's avatar

@Blondesjon I agree whole heartedly. I also think it should be applied to rape and child molestation.

DREW_R's avatar

@The_Compassionate_Heretic But they didn’t give their victims a chance. Why should they have the chance?

Qingu's avatar

@Blondesjon, what if you get convicted of taking a life that you did not in fact take?

And I thought eye for an eye went out of fashion about 2,000 years ago.

Qingu's avatar

@DREW_R, because justice is not about retribution. That’s called “revenge.”

What do you think about people who take lives in warfare? Should the families of their victims demand to have their lives taken in return? That’s what the Palestinians believe.

MacBean's avatar

I think it really depends on the person. If I did something that could result in either of these sentences, I’d much rather die than have to live the rest of my life in a place that reminds me of it every day. I completely disagree with @IchtheosaurusRex‘s “No, it is not more severe than the death penalty. Nothing is.” and @The_Compassionate_Heretic‘s “At least a life in prison is still a life.”

Blondesjon's avatar

@Qingu…No semantics or broad generalities on this one. A Gacy or a Bundy deserve to be put down. They were guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt and they sure as fuck weren’t fighting any type of war that I support.

Qingu's avatar

What’s the point of killing someone like Gacy when he could be studied, living his life in a cell?

I don’t see any except bloodlust.

Blondesjon's avatar

Like studying Richard Speck and his coke fueled, prison cell orgies? What do you really think you’re going to learn?

or do we have a bit o’ the voyeur in us

DREW_R's avatar

@Qingu War is not the same as a deranged person just striking randomly or a premeditated murder. The only way you could learn anything from murderers, rapists and child molesters is leave them in society and monitor them. Let them do their crimes over and over.That would, in my book, make the person doing the studies just as sick and deranged. There is enough information to learn about them in their past. It just has to be dug out of the depths of time from relatives, aquaintances and possible therapists and counselors.

hungryhungryhortence's avatar

Assuming there is no doubt of guilt, the Death Penalty should be death, no dragging out in courts with appeals costing the taxpayers so much money that it becomes less expensive to keep them alive on Death Row indeffinitely.

Life in prison drags out the pain for surviving family and friends of the victim while the Death Penalty means closure, out of sight and out of mind and less “suffering” for the wrongdoer and less injustice to taxpayers.

Qingu's avatar

@Blondesjon, we could monitor their brains and behavior. I have zero problem doing psychological studies on life-sentenced serial killers, though there are obviously some moral problems with that as well.

And I still don’t see what other reason you have for wanting these people to die, other than bloodlust. It’s kind of a barbaric mentality. Death just seems pointless to me.

Blondesjon's avatar

@Qingu…Death is inevitable and natural. I think you’re mixing emotion and logic (I know I am).
I have no desire to see anyone put down, but, like I’ve heard Uberbatman say, “If you bought the ticket, you ride the ride.”

mattbrowne's avatar

@Jack79 – Am I asking whether you are for or against the death penalty? This question has been asked a million times so I don’t really expect anything new. Therefore I decided to look at the issue from a different angle. When using 65 years as an example this actually includes true life sentences. Guy rapes and kills a 12-year-old girl when he’s 22, spends 65 years in prison and dies in prison at the age of 87. Personally I think the death penalty is an easy way out. I’m also against it for two reasons: a) it violates my own value system and b) as @Qingu and others have mentioned there are cases of killing the wrong person.

For severe cases a life sentence must mean life. Yes, literally the whole life, nothing else! In Germany there are so-called life sentences (which often means 15 years) followed by preventive detention. Almost all child rapists and child murderers do get this. Same for murderers which are diagnosed to be psychopaths and a danger to society (determined by a doctor and psychologist).

Blondesjon's avatar

@mattbrowne…To directly answer your question (my apologies for the tangents):

It is easy as a non-prisoner to say that 65 years in prison is no life at all. We are free and living a life that we are accustomed to. The thought of life in prison is terrifying because it would strip away what we have become comfortable with and put us in a situation where we have no frame of reference.

What we need to bear in mind is that the human mind is infinitely capable of adapting and surviving in any environment.

I referenced Richard Speck above. He adapted quite well to his prison time. Does this mean that all convicts have a great time in prison? No, but it does show that if you wrap your mind around it the right way you can eek out happiness no matter where you are.

They do call it being institutionalized after all.

The death penalty, on the other hand, allows room for nothing except the deletion of you and all that you know. There is no way to “work” that system.

The death penalty is a more severe, and, in my opinion, more appropriate punishment than a sixty five year prison sentence.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Blondesjon – Thanks for your well thought-out and detailed reply. I know that my question is difficult to answer. There are dilemmas involved. Yes, the death penalty can be seen as more severe. But in my opinion it’s the other way round, but to clarify my views let me phrase it like this

1) The death penalty is severe (despite the fact that it’s an easy way out)
2) 65 years in prison is very severe

There’s still the other question whether the death penalty is right or wrong. But as I said, all the pros and cons are well known. All countries in the European Unions are against it as are some states in the US.

Blondesjon's avatar

@mattbrowne…Thank you.

on a personal level…are you an original or next generation guy. this is pure curiosity

oratio's avatar

@mattbrowne Actually, absence of capital punishment is one of the requirements for joining the union.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Blondesjon – If you mean Star Trek, then I’m a TNG guy. TOS was good when I was a 15-year-old kids. And I consider it to be a very important milestone for science fiction series. What about you? Original or next generation guy?

mattbrowne's avatar

@oratio – Correct. Turkey already gave it up. But some of their police is still very brutal.

oratio's avatar

@mattbrowne Yes. That’s just one of the many problems with turkey, and I don’t see them entering the union for some time since another criteria is a working democracy. That’s a problem, though. We risk losing them. The union needs turkey, but can’t let them in really.

Jack79's avatar

@mattbrowne the way the original question is stated it seems as if you’re asking it from the convict’s perspective, ie is 65 years harsher than death? In other words, which would I prefer if I were a convict? I think it depends on each person’s character, circumstances, even crime (and guilt factor). There have been people who actually committed suicide in jail. And of course it also raisies the question of society having to feed a criminal for 65 whole years when a single bullet would do the trick.

Blondesjon's avatar

@mattbrowne…The original series, of course. It is completely over the top and, as such, very appealing to me. Thanks for giving a straight answer. You’re not such a bad fella for a Pickard man.

mattbrowne's avatar

@oratio – Actually, I’m in favor of having Turkey in the EU after weighting all the pros and cons, but I belong to a minority in Germany having this opinion. The key point is: yes, we risk losing them. My wife and I spent a week in Turkey earlier this year. It seems the country is divided. One half defends secularism and admires Atatürk while the other half sympathizes with religious leaders in other countries openly opposing western politicians. Actually, Barack Obama could change all this. It was a very smart move stress the partnership approach. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and the rest of their obnoxious gang made mistakes of historical proportions. Not only did they bully their friends in France and Germany. They were perceived as extremely arrogant even in the moderate Islamic world. Who will stand up against them? Islam or a secular Turkey? Thank God those incompetent and dangerous US politicians are gone.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Jack79 – In my opinion an incentive system should encourage life prisoners to work in prison to pay for food and housing.

Jack79's avatar

In my opinion an incentive system should encourage all prisoners to do some sort of work and knock time off their sentences. But then it becomes “forced labour”, because how do we know that courts which would otherwise give someone 15 years won’t give 25, making him to work for 15 so as to avoid the extra 10?

The whole correction system is by definition problematic, because it’s trying to correct mistakes made in education. And even these mistakes are always relevant. It’s very hard to qualify “bad” into different categories. Even with the best intentions on all sides, the system always fails somewhere.

DREW_R's avatar

@mattbrowne I don’t even think it should be an incentive program. They are there paying for crimes commited and should have to be manditory to all prison inmates period. They are there to pay for a crime not rest up.

oratio's avatar

@DREW_R Sure, they have to pay for a crime committed. But are you ever concerned about what you let out of the prison once the time is served? If it is the same person or worse, I think you might have a problem.

DREW_R's avatar

@DREW_R So we just coddle them till their release date? Or do we teach them that if they screw up they are gonna get nailed. Our prisons are too soft on the criminals. We need to make it bad enough that they walk the str8 and narrow so they don’t go back. Sure educate them but don’t coddle them. Make them work during the day making little rocks out of the big ones but also give them the opportunity to attend classes in the evening after working a standard 8 hr day.

oratio's avatar

@DREW_R I guess that was supposed to be adressed to me and not to yourself.

I don’t see why your world is divided into extreme absolutes. Either it’s cuddling people or treating them like in Abu Ghraib, and that the latter would make them be lawful abiding citizens in the society.

My question that you did not answer, was “are you ever concerned about what you let out of the prison once the time is served?” Answer that question, and then we can discuss how to make people a resource instead of a burden.

avalmez's avatar

i think the data indicate that some people are simply prone to commit crimes and become incarcerated multiple times. a major factor behind this fact is that a large number of criminals suffer mental health issues. and, in many cases, persons suffering mental health issues refuse treatment or otherwise are not able to care for themselves. this unforutnate situation is not unique to any given country and does not apply to terrorists whose acts are motivated by fanatical beliefs.

however, interestingly, according to wiki, in the us rapists and murderers have the lowest repeat rate within the same category of crime.

yes, all too often correctional institutions are institutions of higher learning for the criminally bent. and places like abu grhaib may serve to more highly motivate terrorists.

but a “just don’t do that” (ala, “just say no”) won’t improve the situation either. rehab/correctional practices need to address the individual.

avalmez's avatar

and i meant to add somewhere, that on a case by case basis, the options may range from rehabilitation, to treatment, to deterrence.

oratio's avatar

@avalmez I agree. Convicts are not clones or have the same mindsets. Every case is somewhat or totally different. Just as people react differently to the same medicine, so do they to prison.

IchtheosaurusRex's avatar

This is an interesting video if you have the stomach for it:

Mass murderer Richard Speck in the joint. Was this worse than death?

avalmez's avatar

yeah, we’ve probably all seen that…not worse than death, but certainly he was deterred from further harming innocent individuals. so, to elaborate on my last response, the options are rehabilitation (win their hearts), treatment (mend their minds), or deterrence (fuck ‘em)...for society at large, stick to the higher path. wow, i just argued myself out of capital punishment

DREW_R's avatar

@oratio Yes I am concerned about what comes out of prison after time served. Make the penalty hash enough and there will be less repeats.

I am a soft loving person for the biggest part. The harder part believes that if you do something right or wrong there should be suitable/equal consequences. If you murder, molest a child or rape someone then there ought to be a very harsh penalty, death. If you rob, mug, or what ever you have a chance to rehab. That is how I feel. If someone killed/raped my wife, son or daughter I would end their life, slowly, and feel no remorse. I feel I would be justified in all ways and reasons.

oratio's avatar

@DREW_R I agree with you about consequences, and we agree on chances of rehabilitation. I think we agree on that there are some people who can’t change and can’t be let out of prison. The other part, death, I don’t think we will ever agree on. I see that you feel that murder and killing is sometimes justified. I don’t know what I would do if my son was killed, it’s speculation. Probably I would feel like you. I am not sure I would kill in return though, I don’t see the point. Then I would kill for pleasure, and the animal would be me. But then again, I am not in that situation so it would be hard to tell.

DREW_R's avatar

That senario would make me an animal. I agree whole heartedly and pray that it never happens. I can’t say I would enjoy it though. Maybe I am to old for this day and age but I am here raised old school. I can’t see letting the dregs of society, that take lives and ruin them, live and me have to pay of them. If it is without any doubt that they commited a terrible crime the victim and there family deserve the retribution and closure. The Perpatrator gave up all rights to any future retribution for their family. Call it an old fashion code of honour.

Crusader's avatar

Drew said;

‘call it an old fashioned code of honor…’

Amen, brother

oratio's avatar

@Crusader Interesting choice of words. Hatred and revenge might be old fashioned, but it’s hardly christian. It’s only my perception however, but I find it that it often is christian people who are the least forgiving of the people most in need of forgiveness.

Crusader's avatar

Jesus said, when asked if he came to change the

old testement..

‘I have not come to change on jot nor tittle’

The notable exception…No execution of aduterous women…

Crusader's avatar


If you believe in complete unfettered forgiveness
perhaps you would enjoy rubbing shoulders with several
dangerous Canadian felons in society..Quite frequent there
and..A man beheaded a passenger on the bus…He is due to be released after a few years of psychiatric ‘evaluation’
Try investigating a premise called Utilitarianism.
Why should the majority of law-abiding citizens live in fear?
Answer, to maintain power for the liberal elite..

oratio's avatar

@Crusader I don’t see how you came to the conclusion that I want people that wants to hurt others should roam the streets.
Maybe I was somewhat unclear. Sometimes what I write doesn’t come out the way I wanted it to.

I don’t see the world in black and white, but more in the scales of gray. I don’t understand why you seem to argue that either you chain a criminal behind a car and drive the interstate, or give him flowers.

I feel that humility and forgiveness are two of the most fundamental values of christianity. Values I feel seem often lacking in the rhetoric of christians.

Christians often doesn’t feel like the meek people spoken of in Mathews, and I am of the impression of that Jesus spoke about loving your enemy and rebuked “an eye for an eye”. Gandhi said “I like your Jesus. I do not like your christians. They are so unlike your Jesus.”

That’s more like my sentiments, and a little more clear what I wanted to say.

avalmez's avatar

@oratio and you know something i seem to observe that’s interesting is protestant christian folks who are rabid supporters of “right to life” are frequently ardent supporters of the death penalty…go figure

Crusader's avatar

Thanks Oratio,

Lets remeber, too, that Ghandi was Not an Altruist,Far from it, he was a Political Activist, first and foremost,Just look at the division of India into Pakistan and the powerfpolitical (and economic) legacy of his surviving family To this Day.

To demonize the Christians and not the Christ was hismostfamous utterance, especially for ChristianHaters.Again, appealing to Islam and political authorities in India who wanted Complete Authority and Power-which they achieved.

Remember, too, that the practice of Setee, (woman burning herself alive on the funeral pyre of her dead husband,) was alive and well until 1974-long after Ghandi’s death. All of his positions were politically motivated, All of them. I would venture to speculate he even agreed to be; martyred, knowing his legacy was be one of peace, not of Christian Hate and Islamic empowerment and personal (family) positioning, though the truth is he was Not a man of Peace, Ghandi was a Man of the World, through and through.

Also, he never mentioned the sacrifices of those ‘Christians so unlike your Jesus’ who protected India from what would have been an inevitable Japanese incursion/occupation. No, forget that. I, too, was duped by this ‘Fakir’ as Winston Churchill called him. Winston saw though his hypocritical opportunism, and so do I. (His timing to undermine the British after WWII could not have been better, perhaps he was involved in starting/perpetuating the War…?)

And, no, protecting the victims and not the victimizers is
not black and white issue, it is Common Sense. And I stand by the tactic of fear-mongering for liberal elites designed to terrorize the public with these incorrigables. What ever happend to Victims Rights? Perhaps you would prefer to live in
A ‘Failed State’ in perpetual War where everyone can say and do as they please? NO consequences? Or few…I hear there is some nice real estate in Central Africa,

Just bring Plenty of Guns and a small well-paid personal army, and…get a good tan because they do not like whites.

oratio's avatar

@Crusader Yes, I have experienced racism first hand from sub-saharan africans. Understandable in many ways, but unfortunate. My comment about seeing things black and white didn’t refer to race though. I mean seeing things polarized instead of realizing that things are more complex than either punishment or celebration of a criminal.

Maybe bringing up Gandhi was a mistake. I don’t recognize the description of him you present, but I know too little about Gandhi to argue with that. My point was that it seems that many christian’s have a view of the world that seems contradictory to the message of Jesus.

When it comes to revenge I see that as something that fits into his teachings. That’s more or less what I said.

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