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Will Television Deter Crime

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Capital punishment is one of the most controversial topics of public discussion in America. The United States has a very long history of capital punishment, but its history of public executions is no less colorful. The last public execution in America took place on August 14, 1936 when Rainey Bethea was hanged for having murdered a 70-year-old woman (NPR, 2001). Today, with the rapid advancement of television and other information technologies, the issue of public executions is becoming more urgent. Supporters of televised executions believe that they will serve as an effective mechanism of crime deterrence. Opponents are confident that televised executions will only result in brutalization and more violence. I do not believe that U.S. Supreme Court justices should permit executions to be shown on television. Violence is the only effect televised executions can have on society and  capital punishment by itself is not an effective mechanism of crime deterrence.

In a society as developed as the United States, televised executions are likely to become a tragic sign of reverse development when people turn back to the premature state of things. I do not think that, if U.S. Supreme Court justices permit executions to be shown on television, it will help prevent violent crime, It will not persuade those who are considering committing the crime of murder to change their intentions. My beliefs are based on the assumption that the nature of deterrence is very rational, which can hardly be said about murders. I fully agree with Bridges, Weis and Crutchfield (1996) that deterrence, the way we perceive it, has little or nothing to do with the real nature of crime. We often assume that potential murderers use rational judgment to make decisions on whether or not to kill (Bridges et al., 1996). However, the percentage of rational murders is very low, as opposed to the instances of anger, passion and frustration that fuel violence among people. Most murders take place as a result of a physical assault under the influence of extreme emotions and alcohol (Bridges et al., 1996). According to Bridges, “Encounters that result in murder typically involve face saving or the maintenance of favorable situational identities in the presence of threats, insults, and demands for compliance” (1996, p.58). Therefore, it is wrong to believe that televised executions will have any positive impacts on the level of violent crime.

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The type of murder does not really matter, as well as the age of the audience, because executions should not be televised at all. However, television of executions is likely to have harmful impacts on society. Brutalization is the likeliest consequence of public executions. Numerous empirical studies confirm that the abolition of public executions led to a consecutive drop in homicides and domestic violence (Sarat & Kearns, 1995). By contrast, the violence of the state in the form of public executions has proved to be a powerful determinant of crime and violence in society (Sarat & Kearns, 1995). Televised executions will destroy the fundamental moral values of those who will watch them. They will undermine the sanctity of human life as well as confirm the permissibility of physical violence and death in response to another act of violence (Bridges et al., 1996). American prisons are already overcrowded and television of executions will hardly reduce the burden of crime on the American society. Those who watch televised executions may start to believe that they have the right to convict and destroy those who have been unfair or dishonest. As a result, televised executions will send the message of lethal vengeance instead of deterrence (Bridges et al., 1996).

Of course, I expect that proponents of televised executions will vote for the freedom of information. Mandery (2011) claims that executions should be televised because journalists are ethically obliged to keep the public informed about capital punishment issues. However, informing the society about when and how the state takes the offender’s life and showing the process on TV are quite different things. Journalists can fulfill their ethical obligations by informing the public about capital punishment issues without televising executions. With the problem of capital punishment being so controversial, it is not necessary to add fuel by making executions available to the public eye. Such publicity will hardly contribute to the effectiveness of the existing crime deterrence mechanisms. 

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