Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Death Sentence Vs. Life Imprisonment

I was reading an article on BBC (here) calling for the better treatment of prisoners in Thai prisons, and the following paragraph triggered this post:

"The group has campaigned against the death penalty and praises the government's promise to commute death sentences to life imprisonment."
To be honest, I had never really given much thought to the issue of death sentences vs. life imprisonment.
Now, I always said that a person will analyse and dissect any issue based on the career path they have chosen, and since I am in finance, I will first look at this from a monetary stand point, then follow that with the moral one.
There is no argument, nor is there any doubt, that prisons are a drain on the taxpayers money (or the governments, for those who live in countries that do not impose tax). There is no stream of revenue generated by inmates, at most they are a source of cheap labor for menial jobs. Other than that, they are not contributing much to cover the overheads, which include but are not limited to utilities (gas, water, electricity, sewage etc.), rent, clothing, food, rehabilitation, facilities (library, training yard), maintenance etc. All this money has to come from some place, and the government does not just print money, nor does it fund prisons for free, so the brunt of it lands on the shoulders of the working class, men and women who pay their taxes to support infrastructure, education, health-care and prisoner-care as well.
So here comes the dilemma, a person has been slapped with a life sentence, with no possibility for parole. They will never walk as free men (or women) again, and will remain incarcerated for the rest of their days (not to mention some criminals are slapped with multiple life sentences, meaning if they die, and are miraculously brought back to life or reincarnated, they will again, be incarcerated!). All of the above overheads will be borne by the working class on behalf of this criminal for the rest of his life. They [the criminals] who have forsaken all law and humanity, and committed whatever crime it is that warranted such a sentence, will have the rest of their lives to ponder over their transgression, whilst the working class toil away in the real world outside the prison walls to fund for them.
I will say this matter-of-factly, how much does it cost for the government to take a life? An injection? A hanging? A burial? Cremation?
From a financial stand point, there can be no argument; it is cheaper to put them down that to keep them up.
Morally however, it is a grey area. Who is to judge those that are to be judged? What right does one have to actually take another's life, despite that life not belonging to either one of them (as in the end, it all belongs to god).
Religion (thank you Wikipedia) views the act of taking a life as circumspect. Each is aware of their own teaching.
One might argue that to prolong the life of a criminal tried and found guilty of a crime warranting life imprisonment is a fate worse than death, as they are kept alive, incarcerated, segregated from society, and forced to relive the horrors of their transgression for the remainder of their lives. 
Is that not then, a form of cruelty, of mental torture, that can be relieved by imposing the death penalty in the first place? Which is the crueller of the two fates? Who reserves the right to decide? Would anyone willingly give up the gift of life, to face the unknown that lies beyond? Are they allowed to make that decision for themselves? Apparently not, as suicide has been tabooed by both major (and minor) religions.
Unfortunately not all people are born the same, and whilst some may suffer from nightmares and tortures of the conscious, others are unfazed by the reality of their actions, and no amount of psychology or psychotherapy can make them feel anything for their victims.
The age-old adage of "let the punishment fit the crime" can be viewed as archaic this day in age. How then are we as a society meant to persevere and prosper, if a clear cut resolution to this question is not apparent?

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