There are nearly 2,100 people on death row nationwide. This is nearly quadruple the figure in the early 1970s. Official government executions were prohibited in the United States by court rulings between 1967 and 1976. But the courts reversed themselves in the landmark case of Gary Gilmore, a convicted murderer who basically pleaded to be killed rather than serve a life term in prison.
Ever since the Gilmore case, the numbers of people sentenced to death as well as those actually executed have risen exponentially every year. In the few years following Gilmore's execution, only a handful of people were executed by the states. By 1987, 61 people were executed (Stack, 1987, p. 532). And by 1989, there were 106 executions carried out in the nation (Malcolm, 1989, p. A9). The number of state-sanctioned executions is expected to continue increasing at such a dramatic rate because of greater public acceptance of the death penalty and further court relaxations in the death penalty appeal process. An execution-a-day is a fair estimate for the early years of the 1990s. Clearly, government sanctioned executions once again is becoming a routine method of behavioral control in the United States.
The present study examines the question: Is capital punishment a reasonable and effective means of controlling human behavior in the United States? Specifically, this research analyzes: (1) whether the death penalty historically has been imposed in a fair and justifiable manner; (2) the philosophical justifications for and against capital punishment; and (3) the pragmatic justifications of executions - namely, is the death penalty an effective deterrent to crime?
Few political issues are as widely supported among the American public as the death penalty. Survey after survey demonstrate strong public feelings in favor of executing those convicted of cruel and murderous acts. Regardless of region, Americans favor at least a selective...