Too many Americans like the death penalty. 60%, to be exact, according to Gallup last October. Many believe in the merits of the death penalty, wondering why anyone should be wasting their breath in defense of criminals on death row who represent the worst of the worst in America. Unfortunately, though, this pro death penalty stance is often misguided and if given more information, many supporters of the death penalty may change their mind. Here are five major points that encapsulate why the death penalty is such a misguided policy.

1: It is more expensive to kill someone than it is to imprison them for life

The costs of the death penalty render it, from a fiscal policy perspective, obviously misguided. While the actual execution of a prisoner can cost little, the execution of a prisoner can, according to Forbes, cost 10 times more than it would to keep them alive. The costs associated with the processes needed to get a prisoner to his actual execution are tremendous. According to Fox News (not exactly the most liberal source), a death penalty trial costs $1 million more than a trial for life without parole.

The insane costs do not end there. Prisoners on death row can then appeal their convictions multiple times, only wasting more and more taxpayer dollars which could be put to better use elsewhere. Instead of spending all this money on an attempt to kill someone why not spend the money on better policing to actually prevent the crimes that death-row inmates are accused of from happening in the first place, or building infrastructure, or even just lowering the tax burden? According to Forbes,California has spent over $1 billion on the death penalty since the state instituted it in 1978. In that time California has executed only 13 prisoners. That means that California spends roughly 77 million dollars to execute a prisoner, a ridiculous sum when California’s public education system only spends about $9,370 per student per year. It is absurd that a state literally spends over 8,000 times more in the pursuit of killing someone than they do in educating a child  for a year.

2: Executing the Innocent

It seems criminal that we as a country, which prides itself on righteousness, allow for the possibility of the atrocity of killing innocent prisoners. According to a study by the National Academy of Sciences, innocent men and women account for 4.1% of all executions. . This number is unacceptably high.  Benjamin Franklin once said: “That it is better 100 guilty Persons should escape than that one innocent Person should suffer, is a Maxim that has been long and generally approved.” Seeing as we likely execute 1 innocent individual in every 25 it is safe to say that Franklin would be ashamed.

There are countless heart-wrenching examples of executions of the innocent.  A case in point is Carlos DeLuna. An innocent man whose life was ended by the state of Texas when he was only 27, DeLuna had been accused of killing a gas station attendant in Corpus Christi. DeLuna claimed he was innocent, but the jury felt otherwise. He was sentenced to death and executed in 1989. Further research done in 2012, though, confirmed that DeLuna had killed no one. Rather, the attendant was killed by career criminal, Carlos Hernandez.

If DeLuna had been sentenced to life in prison he would be alive now. Yes, his wrongful imprisonment would have stolen his youth, but at least he would still be able to carry out the rest of his life as a free man. Instead, DeLuna’s life was unjustly stripped from him, one of the many scars our country must carry for its wrongful killings.

3: Execution, a government overreach

Our country is famously based on “life liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” If our country was founded on such values why is it that states our allowed to take one of these core rights, life, away from us?

Some may claim that by this logic prisons should not exist because prisons strip individuals of their liberty. This is different.. Prisons makes sense because they serves as a protection to the liberty, lives, and pursuit of happiness of civilians from dangerous prisoners. The prisoner is in prison because he has shown himself to be a danger to society. Execution, though, serves no purpose. The prisoner is behind bars, he can hurt no one, and the government has done its job and has protected the people. To then execute said prisoner, who is safely behind bars, is an action that can sufficiently be described as government overreach. The government here is taking the individual prisoner’s’ right to life for essentially no reason or benefit at all. Simply put, the government’s role is to protect the people. Execution protects no one; it violates Americans’ basic right to life for no benefit at all.

4: As a country that practices execution we are not in good company

There are 58 countries in the world that practice the death penalty. Of those 58, only four are industrialized nations: United States, Japan, Singapore, and Taiwan. Singapore is not a free country, it censors freedom of speech and has been criticized for its human rights abuses. So there are, for all intents and purposes 3 free countries that execute criminals. Only one is rooted in the Western tradition of inalienable rights.

All of Europe except for Belarus does not practice the death penalty. Many African countries that are less free than America do not practice the death penalty. Every country in the Americas except for Guyana, Guatemala, and the United States do not practice the death penalty. The list of countries which have abolished the death penalty will continue to grow as other countries are beginning to come to their senses and do away with the death penalty. Guinea and Nauru abolished the death penalty last year. To lag behind such nations is truly shameful.

What countries do impose capital punishment? Besides the United States, the other countries which execute the most people are Egypt, Somalia, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran, and China. To be in such company is an outrage. How can we, as a country, claim moral superiority to  these despotic nations when, in practice, we treat our citizens similarly? To share anything in common with these regimes, which are widely known to abuse the rights of their citizens, is shameful. The United States was one of the last countries to join the modern world and abolish the shameful act of slavery. Unfortunately, it seems we are likely to also be one of the last countries to abolish the shameful act of execution.

5: Life in prison is a worse punishment than execution

Supporters of the death penalty will often point to capital punishment as a method to carry out the worst possible form of punishment on the worst breed of criminals.Realistically, though, the death penalty is quick and, if administered correctly, relatively painless. Life in prison, without parole, on the other hand, is not quick. Prisoners must come to grips with the reality that they will spend the rest of their life in prison. Unlike prisoners who committed minor crimes this is not a temporary struggle they have to endure before they can continue with their life. Prison is their life now. It is no wonder then that more and more perfectly sane criminals actually prefer the death penalty to life in prison. And, while many prisoners do not want to be executed it could be reasoned that this is simply a gut reaction faced with the immediacy of death. Realistically, though, the unrewarding aspect and menial life of prison is essentially a form of execution of the prisoner’s previous life, a life which he will soon realize is gone for good. Even if the death penalty is worse than life in prison, is it worse enough to justify the absurd costs that it brings?

Conclusion

When a young child hits his sibling we teach the victimized child to use his words and not hit back. “Two wrongs don’t make a right,” we tell that child. Yet, for some reason, such lessons are forgotten on us when we advocate capital punishment for criminals.

Defendants of capital punishment often incite emotional arguments. Why is it fair that a criminal who killed someone should be allowed to live? The unfortunate answer is it’s not fair. Through that criminal’s actions, a great injustice has been thrust onto the world. But, the solution to said injustice is not to commit another injustice in retaliation. The reasons discussed are demonstrative of why the pursuit of a death penalty is flawed in every respect. Carrying out the death penalty is a brash response to an unfortunate tragedy. What makes a country free and great, though, is its ability to think things through before action and not act on emotions alone. Rather than emotionally vent our anger on criminals, we should choose smart, effective policies rationally that save us money, maintain our values, and promote our international standing.

 

One thought on “Death to the Death Penalty

  1. Jonah: Well done! And I was ignorant of many of the facts you presented not the least of which was the far greater fiscal cost of an execution.

    One further comment. What about the spiritual aspect of this question?

    What does Judaism say about the death penalty? Unfortunately my primary source of such guidance would be my spiritual rock and compass, Rabbi Miller, but sadly he is terminally ill. Google “death penalty and the Old Testament,” “death penalty and Judaism,” or even “death penalty and the Bible (wherein the New Testament and the Old Testament will have to be differentiated and you will find more material than one could read during a life span equal to that of Methuselah.

    And what about “an eye for an eye?”

    Amen and good night.

    Like

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