Office of Crime Accountability

The death penalty, as a deterrent to crime, has now been debated for almost 160 years. Those in favor of it argue that it provides justice to victims and reduces violent crime. However, studies by groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other anti-death penalty movements suggest that there is no proven correlation between the death penalty and crime reduction.

In August 1936, thousands of people gathered at Owensboro, KY, for a glimpse of what proved to be the last public hanging in the United States—the death of Rainey Bethea. The circus atmosphere quickly brought the matter of public hangings into question. In 1938, the Kentucky legislature moved all executions behind prison walls. One of the opinion groups suggests that if we, as a society, are willing to impose a death sentence on an individual, then we should also have the right to witness that which we are imposing. The public has a right to know the true nature of a procedure it sanctions. If it is too gruesome to watch, then it should probably not be used. Today, television programs and movies are filled with violent deaths that are very little objected to. Could states with poor revenues and economic ills enter into agreements with pay-per-view stations to bring revenues into their states by airing executions? Would the sight of a condemned person being hung in a public square or televised bring a stop to epidemic of violent crime or would it only further acclimate us to such violent images?

Write a position paper for the Office of Crime Accountability and support your position either for or against the practice of public executions.


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