Essays About Death Penalty: 10 Thought-Provoking Essay Questions

The death penalty has been an important topic in the American criminal justice system. Here are essays about death penalty to explore?

Capital punishment has been discussed for centuries across numerous justice systems worldwide. It is an important human rights topic, and it has been debated by the Supreme Court countless times. Death penalty cases are almost always automatically appealed to minimize the chances of an innocent person being executed. However, the legality and morality of death penalty cases is still a controversial topic.

It can be helpful to review the use of the death penalty as a punishment for capital crimes. Here are 10 thought-provoking essay topics on the death penalty.

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Essays About the Death Penalty

1. What Are the Pros and Cons of the Death Penalty vs. Life Imprisonment? 

This is one of the most straightforward ways to explore the death penalty. If the death penalty is to be removed from criminal cases, it must be replaced with something else. The most logical alternative is life imprisonment. A few points to explore in this essay include:

  • Some people would rather be put to death instead of imprisoned in a cell for life. Should people have the right to decide which punishment they accept?
  • What is the cost of the death penalty versus imprisoning someone for life? Even though it can be expensive to imprison someone for life, remember that most death penalty cases are appealed numerous times before an execution is carried out.
  • Would the death penalty be more acceptable if certain execution methods were used instead of others?

There is no “right” answer to this question, but a strong argumentative essay could take one side over another in this death penalty debate.

2. How Is the Death Penalty Different in Japan vs. the USA?

Few first-world countries still use the death penalty. However, Japan and the United States are two of the biggest users of the death sentence. This essay can explore the differences in how executions are carried out. Some of the points to explore include:

  • What are the execution methods countries use? The execution method in the United States can vary from state to state, but Japan typically uses hanging. Is this considered a cruel and unusual punishment?
  • In the United States, death row inmates know when their execution date is coming up. In Japan, they do not. Which is better for the prisoner?
  • How does the public in the United States feel about the death penalty versus public opinion in Japan? Should this influence when, how, and if executions are carried out in the respective countries?

This is an interesting compare and contrast essay worth exploring.

3. How Has the Death Penalty Changed Throughout History?

People have been put to death as a punishment since the dawn of recorded history, but as morals and technology have changed, the application of the death penalty has evolved. This essay will explore how the death penalty has been used and carried out throughout history. A few points to explore in this essay include:

  • Thousands of years ago, “an eye for an eye” was the standard. How were executions carried out in ancient history?
  • The religious context of executions during the middle ages is worth exploring. When was someone burned at stake?
  • The guillotine became a popular method of execution during the renaissance period. How does this method compare to both ancient execution methods and modern methods?
  • The most common execution methods in the modern era include the firing squad, hanging, lethal injections, gas chambers, and electrocution. How do these methods compare to older forms of execution?

This essay will examine both execution methods and when capital punishment is ordered.

4. Why Do Some States Use the Death Penalty and Not Others?

In the United States, justice is typically administered at the state level unless a federal crime has been committed. Why do some states have the death penalty and not others? A few points worth exploring in this essay include:

  • When did various states outlaw the death penalty (if they do not use the death penalty today)?
  • Which states execute the most prisoners? Some states to mention are Texas and Oklahoma.
  • Do the states that have the death penalty differ in when the death penalty is administered?
  • Is this sentence handed down by the court system or by the juries trying the individual cases in states with the death penalty?

This essay will look at which states have the death penalty and which states make the most use of this form of punishment as part of the legal system.

5. Does the Death Penalty Serve as a Deterrent for Serious Crimes?

This is one of the biggest debates in the justice system. While the justice system has been set up to punish, it should also deter people from committing crimes. Does the death penalty do an effective job at deterring crimes? A few points to explore in this essay include:

  • Which crimes have the death penalty as the ultimate punishment?
  • How does the murder rate compare to states that do not have the death penalty in states with the death penalty?
  • Are there confounding factors that must be taken into consideration with this comparison? How do they play a role?

This essay should lay out the evidence that shows how the death penalty either does or does not deter crime.

6. What Are the Most Common Punishments Selected by Prisoners for Execution?

Essays About Death Penalty: Most common punishments selected by prisoners
It might be interesting to see if certain prisoners have selected a specific execution method to make a political statement

Numerous states across the country allow prisoners to select how they will be executed. The most common methods include lethal injections, firing squads, electric chairs, gas chambers, and hanging. Some of the points this essay might explore include:

  • When did these different execution methods become options for execution?
  • Which execution methods are the most common in the various states that offer them?
  • Is one method considered more “humane” than others? If so, why?

It might be interesting to see if certain prisoners have selected a specific execution method to make a political statement.

7. Should the Public Be Allowed To View an Execution?

One of the topics that have been discussed recently is whether the public should be allowed to view an execution. A few topics to explore in this essay include:

  • In the past, executions were carried out in public places. There are a few countries, particularly in the Middle East, where this is still the case. Why were executions carried out in public?
  • There are some situations where individuals directly involved in the case, such as the victim’s loved ones, are permitted to view the execution. Does this bring a sense of closure?
  • Should executions be carried out in private? Does this reduce transparency in the justice system?

There are many potential directions to go with this essay, and all of these points are worth exploring.

8. Discuss the Challenges Faced by the Judicial System in Obtaining Lethal Injection Doses.

Lethal injection is one of the most common modes of execution. The goal is to put the person to sleep and remove their pain. Then, a cocktail is used to stop their heart. Many companies have refused to provide states with the drugs needed for a lethal injection. A few points to explore include:

  • Doctors and pharmacists have said it is against the oath they took to “not harm.” Is this true? What impact does this have?
  • If someone is giving the injection without medical training, how does this impact the prisoner?
  • Have states decided to use other more “harmful” modes of execution because they can’t get what they need for the lethal injection?

These are key topics impacting the use of the death penalty in the modern era.

9. Should The Death Penalty Be Used for Juveniles?

There are certain crimes, such as murder, where the death penalty is a possible punishment across the country. Even though minors can be tried as adults in some situations, they typically cannot be given the death penalty. Should the death penalty be an option for juveniles? A few points to explore include:

  • How does the brain change and evolve as someone grows?
  • Do juveniles have a higher rate of rehabilitation than adults?
  • Should the wishes of the victim’s family play a role in the final decision?

It might be interesting to see what legal experts and victims of juvenile capital crimes say about this important topic.

10. Does the Death Penalty Have a Racial Bias To It?

The justice system, and its unjust impact on minorities, have been a major area of research during the past few decades. It might be worth exploring if the death penalty is disproportionately used in cases involving minorities. A few points worth exploring include:

  • Of the percentage of cases where the death penalty has been levied, what percentage of the cases involve a minority perpetrator?
  • Do stays of execution get granted more often in cases involving white people versus minorities?
  • Do white people get handed a sentence of life in prison without parole more often than people of minority descent?

It might be worth looking at numbers from Amnesty International or the Innocence Project to see what the numbers show. A strong essay might also propose ways to make cases involving the justice system more equitable and fair.

Tip: If writing an essay sounds like a lot of work, simplify it. Write a simple 5 paragraph essay instead.

For help with this topic, read our guide explaining what is persuasive writing?

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