The world today has taken on a form in which guillotines and public hangings are a thing of the past. The modern man has sought to sugarcoat handing out of punishment to criminals. However, as the barbarian of yesterday is replaced by the civilised man of today, delivering of punishment becomes subtler than ever but does not lose its essential sadistic touch.
In America today, the gas chamber has been replaced by lethal injection as a means of inflicting capital punishment. Steps are being taken to make easier the misery of criminals. However, for the person in question who is to undergo death by lethal injection or an infinite number of years in solitary confinement, is any method better than the other?
People argue in favour of harsher forms of punishment by saying that there are certain crimes that have to be dealt with very strictly. The very enormity of crimes like murder, rape etc requires them to be punishable by severe means. Their argument holds a lot of weight. How can society treat serious criminals with a lenient hand? However, against it one can argue that there can be infinitely better methods of deterring people to commit crimes than following the ancient dictates "eye for an eye."
The role of harsher forms of punishment as deterrents is debatable. Instead of making people scared to commit violent crimes, strict punishment can also lead people on by indirectly challenging them to outwit the law. The thrill of escaping the harsh snares of justice may indeed motivate certain people to commit crimes.
Yet the greatest argument against infliction of harsh forms of punishment to criminals is that they cannot be retracted if made in error. By punishing people through the death penalty or amputation of hands etc., the decision cannot be reversed if made erroneously. In 1956, capital punishment was abolished in Britain after Timothy Evans who was awarded the death penalty for killing his wife turned out to be innocent. A serial killer confessed to the crime ten years later. As human beings we cannot make mistakes of this magnitude. We cannot play God.
Another issue that we need to examine is that are we inflicting harsher forms of punishment upon criminals to uphold the law, or is it a legal channel through which the human desire of revenge is being satisfied? By coming up with subtle, sadistic forms of punishment for criminals, are we not fanning the primitive urge for retaliation by taking identical action or worse?
In countries where the system of justice is not as transparent as it ought to be, harsh punishment meted out to convicts can be used as means to serve personal interests. Adversaries and enemies can be eliminated by indicting them in false cases. This is especially true of third world politics. The all-important question raises its head again: what rights do human beings, being a tiny part of Nature's system, have to decide whose time has come to die, and who can be allowed to live a little longer?
In these ways then it is clear that harsh methods of punishment should not be made harsher. Their place is not in today's society but in history books where they can serve to make us learn from our mistakes. Fourteen states of America have outlawed the death penalty. The trend is positive, to say the least. By satisfying the baser of human feelings by punishing criminals harshly, we should not detract from our already thin vestiges of civilisation.