Many people think that all conservatives/liberals have views that are written in stone– that is, conservatives generally are in favor of the free market, individual liberty and freedom, limited government, traditional values, and strong national security, while liberals are more progressive, socialist, and in favor of a large and controlling government. But with the death penalty, this really is not the case. There is great division in each party over the issue. Although it is obviously not the most pressing issue our country faces, it should be analyzed and subject to skeptical inquiry and scrutiny.
To put it simply: With the current system, it is only reasonable to oppose the death penalty. It is more costly than the alternative option (prison), it allows potentially innocent people to get killed, and it has not been conclusively shown to deter crime. However, if we push for a better system (explained in more depth later), then it would actually be reasonable and beneficial to incorporate the death penalty into American law. So, ultimately, the reasonable stance is to oppose the death penalty (currently), but also to push for a better system. Our motto? “Oppose until reform”– catchy, right?
Why it is useful
If someone takes an innocent human being’s life (or multiple innocent lives in many cases), then taking that person’s life is completely justified. It should not be seen as “cruel” or “inhumane”. The death penalty keeps the public safe, as the murderer will not be able to wreak more havoc upon innocents, and it also has the potential to save money. The prison would not have to sustain the criminal for the rest of his life through food, water, material, time, space, etc. But, as we will see, this is mainly not the case because the current capital punishment system is flawed.
Why we should oppose it
There are three main premises that lead to the conclusion that capital punishment is currently unreasonable and needs reformation. Read on to see each point.
- It doesn’t deter crime. In fact, in every single year from 1990-2014, states with capital punishment have more murders per 100,000 than states without it. In other words, the murder rate is undeniably higher in states with capital punishment than states without it across the board (Death Penalty Information Center). Also, the National Research Council studied and reviewed extensively more than 30 years of research and found that no credible evidence that capital punishment deters crime.
“A report released on April 18 by the prestigious National Research Council of the National Academies based on a review of more than three decades of research concluded that studies claiming a deterrent effect on murder rates from the death penalty are fundamentally flawed.” (Death Penalty Information Center)
Almost all criminals fail to consider that their consequences have actions, and many death row inmates have mental health problems, so it seems completely reasonable that capital punishment does not reduce murder rates.
2. It costs more than the alternative. In short, capital punishment costs more than life in prison. It’s that simple.
“According to state and federal records obtained by The Los Angeles Times, maintaining the California death penalty system costs taxpayers more than $114 million a year beyond the cost of simply keeping the convicts locked up for life. This figure does not count the millions more spent on court costs to prosecute capital cases. The Times concluded that Californians and federal taxpayers have paid more than a quarter of a billion dollars for each of the state’s 11 executions, and that it costs $90,000 more a year to house one inmate on death row, where each person has a private cell and extra guards, than in general prison population. This additional cost per prisoner adds up to $57.5 million in annual spending. (“Death Row Often Means a Long Life,” Los Angeles Times, March 6, 2005).” (Death Penalty Information Center)
In fact, when states endure economic hardships, they actually reduce the amount of death penalties issued. (Death Penalty Information Center)
3. It has been responsible for the deaths of innocents.
“At least 4.1% of all defendants sentenced to death in the US in the modern era are innocent, according to the first major study to attempt to calculate how often states get it wrong in their wielding of the ultimate punishment.” (The Guardian)
This study was done by “a team of legal experts and statisticians from Michigan and Pennsylvania”, and they “used the latest statistical techniques to produce a peer-reviewed estimate”(The Guardian). This carries a lot of credence in our discussion about capital punishment because condemning innocent lives to death should be avoided at all costs.
In conclusion, the current capital punishment system has been demonstrably proven ineffective and actually detrimental–but does that spell disaster for those in favor of it? Not quite.
Why it needs to be reformed
Almost every problem has a solution, so we should not just jettison all the possible benefits of capital punishment because of a currently flawed system. That’s why the process needs reformation.
Let’s tackle the first problem; It does not deter crime. First of all, this mainly is not the goal of capital punishment. The goal is to enact justice upon individuals who require it. Deterring crime would be good, but that’s not the sole reason for its existence. Secondly, the death penalty does not happen very often. Thirdly, criminals fail to consider their consequences (regardless of the penalty).
Now, let’s assess the second problem. Capital punishment, in general, does cost more than the alternative. However, if we change the system, that can be fixed. It mainly costs more than life in prison because authorities have to maintain, utilize, and care for each process by which death row inmates die. By reducing the options for death, we can reduce the cost of the whole process. There are currently multiple ways to carry out the killing procedure: lethal injection, gas chamber, electric chair, hanging, and firing range. All of these together are costly, but, as mentioned earlier, reducing the options to a single technique could help to fix that. I would suggest the firing range, because it is done in a way that the authorities executing the criminal do not know who fires the fatal shot, and it is quick, cheap, effective, and practically painless. There are even more ways to fix the system to make it more cost-effective, but I will refrain from delving into them here.
Finally, we take on the third flaw. Yes, it definitely has accounted for the deaths of innocent individuals. But there is a way to fix this; we need to radically reform our legal classification for surety. We need to be almost absolutely certain that each individual being sentenced to death is guilty, and getting a new legal classification for surety would fix this. We need to push for political leaders, those studying law and economics, and many more to work on a way to avoid the innocence problem.
Many religious people oppose the death penalty for one main reason; they state that if we take the life of a criminal, we deny them the opportunity to ask for forgiveness from God before they die. However, the average inmate serves 15 years on death row (from the time they were sentenced to the day of their execution– Wikipedia).
Fifteen years is definitely enough time to ask for forgiveness from God, so this argument clearly fails. The entire issue, though, should really be a states issue. In the end, capital punishment is beneficial in theory, but detrimental in practice–and that is why we need to “oppose until reform!”
Author: Joe Schmid
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