To respond to the Do Now, you can comment below or tweet your response. Be sure to begin your tweet with @KQEDEdspace and end it with #DoNowDeath

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Do Now

Should prisoners convicted of the worst crimes receive the death penalty? Why or why not is this an appropriate form of punishment?


In April, a convicted murderer on Oklahoma’s death row was given a lethal injection. But the procedure — intended to be swift and painless — got screwed up, causing the inmate to writhe in intense pain and eventual die of a heart attack. The upsetting nature of his death helped rekindle America’s perennial debate over the death penalty and the ethics of capital punishment.

Opponents of the death penalty contend that executing people is never justifiable, even criminals that have committed the most serious crimes. They also argue that the death penalty is incredibly inefficient and financially wasteful, due to the number of legal appeals, and the cost of keeping prisoners on death row for years on end.

But supporters of the death penalty argue that criminals convicted of the most violent crimes deserve to be put to death. The death penalty deters future crime, many argue, and for the families and friends of victims, it is the only way that justice is truly served.

The United States is the only nation among western democracies that still has the death penalty. Since 1976, when the Supreme Court ended a brief moratorium, 1379 inmates have been executed at the hands of the state, and more than 3,000 remain on death row. Visit the Lowdown to see an interactive map on which states still use the death penalty.


PBS NewsHour video Execution gone wrong raises questions about lethal injection
In Oklahoma, Clayton Lockett died of a heart attack when he was given an untested combination of drugs in what was intended to be a lethal injection. Judy Woodruff talks to Cary Aspinwall who has been covering the story for Tulsa World. Attorney Roy Englert and Deborah Denno of Fordham University School of Law discuss whether states can implement the death penalty in a humane fashion.

To respond to the Do Now, you can comment below or tweet your response. Be sure to begin your tweet with @KQEDedspace and end it with #DoNowDeath

For more info on how to use Twitter, click here.

We encourage students to reply to other people’s tweets to foster more of a conversation. Also, if students tweet their personal opinions, ask them to support their ideas with links to interesting/credible articles online (adding a nice research component) or retweet other people’s ideas that they agree/disagree/find amusing. We also value student-produced media linked to their tweets. You can visit our video tutorials that showcase how to use several web-based production tools. Of course, do as you can… and any contribution is most welcomed.

More Resources

KQED’s The Lowdown video To Kill or not to Kill? California’s Death Penalty Debacle
California has had a really tough time making up its mind about the death penalty. In 1872, the state authorized capital punishment in its penal code (until then, executions were generally conducted by county sheriffs). 23 years later, a guy named Jose Gabriel, convicted of murdering an elderly couple, was hung inside San Quentin Prison. That marked California’s first official execution at the hands of the state.

NPR radio segment In Calif., A Death Penalty Proponent Changes Course
Ron Briggs, a member of the Board of Supervisors in El Dorado County, Calif., and his father helped expand the state’s death penalty in 1978. Now Briggs wants the death penalty repealed and replaced with life without parole. Renee Montagne speaks with Briggs about his shift from death penalty supporter to death penalty opponent.

New York Times article What It Means if the Death Penalty Is Dying
As executions become concentrated in fewer and fewer states and racial disparities continue, does the application of capital punishment make it unconstitutionally cruel and unusual?

  • Dustin Remiker

    I think that the death penalty should only be used on crimes were you are sentenced to life for murder that and they drugs that are used should not be kept secret so that if something like the Oklahoma incident does not happen again because no mater how bad the crime is you should not torture the person.

  • 18vmon

    I think that many methods of executions are extremly inhumane. They should really regulate them and make them as painless as possible to comply with the constitution.

  • 18jcol

    I think that the death penalty is justifiable if the person does a crime like making someone suffer or if they do a mass shooting.

  • 18tmon

    Some people that the victim’s family will find closure from knowing the person killed or harmed them is dead. In most cases this is NOT true. Ronald Carlson watched the execution of the man who killed his sister. He said it left him with “horror and emptiness”

    “Watching the execution left me with horror and emptiness, confirming what I had already come to realize: Capital punishment only continues the violence that has a powerful, corrosive effect on society.”

    “[O]ur justice system should not be dictated by vengeance.”

    “As a society, shouldn’t we be more civilized than the murderers we condemn?”

    The healing process for victims families starts with coming to the realization that whoever they loved is dead. Killing the murderer will not help. It could make it easier for them to believe that loved one is still out there. If the murderer has life in prison, the family might be able to confront the person and come to terms to their feelings.
    Ronald Carson urged other victims families to look past that first stage of blind rage. As a country we should want to help these families in any way we can.

    I do NOT believe in the death penalty. I do believe in just punishment that complies with the constitution.

  • Pinya Colada

    The death penalty can be cruel, but I think sometimes people deserve it, even though putting someone to death can be one of the worst things you can do to someone. The way they put people to death should be as humane as possible, though.

  • 18wlam

    The death penalty should be legal, even though people are saying yes it is sometimes in humane because of mishaps, what would you rather have them do for a punishment? Would you rather have them go to solitary confinement? Because solitary confinement would be worse than being put to death. Solitary confinement can cause psychological damage, such as heightened state of anxiety and nervousness, headaches, insomnia, lethargy or chronic tiredness, nightmares, heart palpitations, and hallucinations.

  • CGomez

    I do not believe that the death penalty is an appropriate form of punishment. Civilians should be better educated on how to conduct within society and they should be reassured at all times that they are in a safe environment. Then, these same civilians will have other outlets and not have to resort to violence, which may lead to a drastic punishment such as the death penalty. The death penalty is a cheap alternative to having to deal with the issue of criminals.
    @KQEDedspace @teacherstevew

  • davidjenny

    Yes, I do believe the death penalty is an appropriate form of punishment. Is it cruel? Yes, but so is a life sentence in prison and solitary confinement. Would you rather spend life behind bars by yourself or just get life over with? What happened in Oklahoma obviously shouldn’t happen to anyone but we shouldn’t get rid of the death penalty for that mishap. Instead, we should research the drugs we give to those on death row and train those who give the drugs to the inmate.

  • Victor Herrera

    The Death penalty is way expensive more expensive so then letting the person live out their life in jail. Even though these people committed really harsh crimes it it is not right to kill another person just for revenge. The person that died due to this person actions can’t be brought back or have their death justified in any manner . I understand these person killed or harmed someone but their actions can not be undone . So no one deserves to die in the end but death happens so we shouldn’t be killing people because they killed some other person.

  • Brandon C

    Simply put, I think that there are crimes that cannot be forgiven. Murder and rape would be the first and foremost. These actions can destroy (literally, in the case of murder) someone’s life. It leaves a huge psychological burden on the victim or their family that may never truly be forgotten. The punishment for such crimes should be just as severe. What right do murderers have to choose to live a good life if they denied the right to their victim(s)? The death penalty is not a perfect solution however neither would letting them walk around on the streets.

  • Caroline P

    Death penalty is unnecessary and quite disgusting. If human life is valued to such a great extent, then in no situation should it be taken away, despite past actions. I believe in the sacredness in human life, and when someone takes human life away, the way to punish someone is not through death. Putting a criminal in prison for life is a proper punishment, and even solitary confinement is appropriate, but death is never an adequate punishment. We were taught from a young age that an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind. By killing criminals, you are teaching and supporting that the answer to violence is more violence. This is a never ending cycle that causes a world of hate and extreme violence. We need to put an end to death penalty.

  • Francesca Botto

    I don’t think the death penalty is necessary nor does it change anything. A life should not be taken away in the matter that the death penalty does. There are crimes that are heinous and unforgivable, but taking a life a way is no the way to go. I think prison is a punishment, solitary confinement is torture. At time a life sentence is necessary but no the death sentence.

  • carlos a

    I think that the death penalty is not appropriate because just having to be in jail or prison is bad enough, and they should just be placed in prison. Plus the cost to have someone in jail is less than the cost to keep them in prison.

  • Alex M

    The ethics of the death penalty can be argued, but so can the ethics of forcing someone to spend their life in prison or solitary confinement. The death penalty should be very, very rare, but when we choose to use it, it should at least be performed as humanely as possible. Taking a life never solves the problem, but if people choose to do that it needs to be humane.

  • Maliha M

    Even though a person has committed a terrible act of hate and has ruined dozens of lives connected to their crime, their life is not ours to deal with. We cannot choose when someone dies. They have made so many lives terrible but by their own death we could do the same to their family. Death will not decrease the crime rate and it most defientely will not comfort those who lost their children, because either way they cant be brought back.

  • Matt

    matt snieder ‏@mattsnieder1 1m

    @KQEDedspace #mhacad #ushistory
    Do i think the death penalty is right, in some cases. In this pic i made, No.

  • Kambrie Page

    I 100% agree with the death penalty, if someone was raping women or doing something to torture living people. Most people (victims)feel a sense of closure knowing that the assailant is dead. For murder, I think the assailant should stay in prison for the rest of his life. This way, he can torture himself with his thoughts and learn; think of what he could have done better, instead of throwing his life away by committing crimes.

  • Jeremiah Bonifacio

    In my opinion, there is a reason why we see death penalty, if there’s a dangerous criminal activity. For example: Rape, murder, torture etc. Raping people for drugs or no reason can cause criminal charges. Random murder cases cause massacre of all raped or murdered people. It is shocking that there are criminals that are to find because psycho murderers cause many victims to die that the innocent didn’t deserve. Innocent people never deserves to be raped and murder and the murderer should go to prison and deserves to die for what the murderer has done.

  • octavio

    In my opinion i think its great that they have this

    • steve

      so true

  • Destiny Robinson

    In my opinion I do not think the death penalty is right, I feel as if someone does something wrong such as kill several people they should be punished not killed. You should not stoop down to the level of someone doing things that are wrong. The death penalty is wrong.

  • DaisyOMP

    In my opinion, the death penalty should not be permitted. It may seem like the right thing to do for some people to kill off someone who has done extreme harm to others, but that only makes you just as bad as the criminal. The whole purpose of having death row is to put people who deserve it in a specific section where they belong. Killing off someone to feel at ease is not the way to feel justified. Everyone has a right to life, but not everyone has a right to liberty and other things. People who do such extreme harm towards others should be punished. By taking away their lives, you are not making the justice any better. By seeing the criminal get punished and for the criminal to actually see their faults in what they have committed.


Matthew Green

Matthew Green produces and edits The Lowdown, KQED’s multimedia news education blog, an online resource for educators and the general public. He previously taught journalism at Fremont High School in East Oakland, and has written for numerous local publications, including the Oakland Tribune and San Francisco Chronicle. Email:; Twitter: @KQEDlowdown

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