June 27, 2011

Why The Death Penalty Is A Failure - Morally, Financially and Most Importantly In Deterring Crime

    Today I was contemplating the death penalty and whether it's right or wrong, morally speaking. Of course, it's always easy to simply dismiss subjects regarding taking the lives of others, but I wanted to think about it on a much larger scale than that, and honestly, the question wasn't an easy yes or no to me at first. There are plenty of factors that go into deciding your personal stance.

       The first website & one of the best that offers bipartisan discussions on the subject was DeathPenalty.ProCon.Org . I liked their site the best because it had truly bipartisan discussions, as opposed to some sites where a specific side is favored and sometimes underneath people wanting to be right, the truth can get lost. Just a note for navigating that website, the stars next to the names of the people are in no way indications of their knowledge on the subject or even a rating of their submission. If you click the tab at the top of the page that says 'Theoretical Expertise' or click here, you will see a full break down of what the stars mean. So please, don't let that influence your personal decision or opinion(s).

      As you scroll down the first site, even if you already have your mind made up about this in your head, if you're reading with an unbiased mind it should make you think a little. Between morality, constitutional rights and costs (only 3 of the 10 topics covered) it made me think even on the issues I had already chosen. On the first, Morality, I found myself siding with the anti-death penalty argument made because Bryan Stevenson (the person who made that argument) made many points that I found to be valid. One being the question of whether the government holds the authority to murder anyone. I want someone to look at the picture below and honestly, though it's a rhetorical question, provide a meaningful answer.

           Not to say this in itself is entirely dismissive of the entire issue, but it is definitely something to be thought about. It's likely that if you tried to explain this to a small child they would say the same thing. Why kill someone because they killed someone else merely to show it's wrong? Seems like quite the oxymoron to me.      

           I just want to cover some of what I consider the major points on the above site without going through all 10. Regarding number 5, mistakes, I simply can't overlook this as simply as some others have. As you can imagine, with a system like this, innocent people are punished. In my opinion, no day is more sad than the day of which a court rules OFFICIALLY for the death of an innocent man, knowing that we the people gave them the power and authority to do so. This link from AmnestyUsa.Org represents some of my thoughts, and what a meaningful quote beneath Governor Ryan. The pro-death arguement claims no one has been proven innocent, but I would like to know just how closely he examined all the people executed? Even assuming he is right, the anti-death argument points out the number of people acquitted from death row since 1973: 130. Just think about that. Exactly. You can verify that fact by clicking this link to Amnesty.com .

For number 6, costs, I felt the anti-death argument provided a better reasoning and overall explanation. We can do some simple math ourselves just to get a general idea of where the numbers are. So, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, the average life expectancy in the US is 77.9 as of 2007. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, or BJS ( yes seriously, stop laughing ), the average annual cost per inmate is $22,650. After clicking the link for the BJS, click on pdf, or you can click here to go directly to it. Assuming that every single person that is tried for the death penalty has been imprisoned since age 18, it would take on average 1.3 million to keep that person imprisoned for life. If you're math impaired, 78 years (average US lifespan) - 18 (age where you may be jailed) = 60 possible years. 60 years * $22,650 per year equals 1,359,000. I assumed they were jailed as young as possible to offer more room for adjustment, give or take as you please and do keep in mind this is an estimate. While I couldn't find a direct average for the cost of capital punishment cases, this website includes four studies showing the higher cost of the death penalty. On the above link, at the bottom of the page it shows the areas being monetarily deprived due to the death penalty, something to take into consideration. Just like the old saying goes, "don't cut off your nose to suit your face".  Here is another link with arguements about the costs of the death penalty.

     For number 7, race, I started to agree with the pro-death argument, though upon contemplation I feel that it may go either way. The fact that minorities may account for a high percentage of death row inmates could merely mean that that specific ethnic group commits more capital crimes, as was stated, right? The best way to confirm or reject that idea would be to see the group of people who commit capital crimes & view the demographics of those who do & don't receive the death penalty. The pie chart below demonstrates the race of defendants executed in the U.S. since 1976.

The pie chart below this text is depicting the current U.S. death row population by race.

        While I've come to my own conclusion, I do urge you to take that with a grain of salt. As with any system where one person is given power over another there will be wrongdoings . Take for example, the story of Troy Davis. Excuse all the personal and irrelevant parts on that link but they're only trying to make you see their view of Troy. Please, go back and read the part on page 1 where it says "There is no physical evidence linking Davis to the crime. The murder weapon was never recovered. Yet, Davis was sentenced to death. He has remained on death row for 20 years, despite the fact that the case against him has completely unraveled. He now awaits an execution date, which could be set any moment, having had his final appeal rejected by the Supreme Court." If you read the entire story you will see that they have little, if any, evidence against Davis and the four witnesses that allegedly testified against him recanted their testimonies later. The police pressured those 'witnesses' to say that Davis committed the crime. Remember, their co-worker was killed and they want revenge. The witnesses even told the courts who actually committed the crime and the judge decides to ignore that. If you don't like the above link, here's wikipedia's account of the case. Now I'm not a supreme court judge but I would consider that either incompetence, racism or a mixture of the two.

     Now let's flip the script, and see a different situation. Remember, Troy Davis was African American and the cop he allegedly murdered was Caucasian. He was sentenced to the death penalty. In this story,  the life of a 20 year old African American man is taken by the police because allegedly, he (tried to) run over police officers, but the WITNESSES say there was no clear understanding of why the police even confronted the man and say the murder was a result of unjust force. Would you like to know his punishment? None, but he was awarded Officer of The Year! Yaaaayyyy! It gets even better. If that isn't enough for you, try this fact from the previous Troy Davis website. "Meanwhile, there’s considerable evidence of a racial imbalance in who the government decides to kill. According to a 2001 study from the University of North Carolina, a defendant whose victim was white was 3.5 times as likely to receive the death penalty in North Carolina than if the victim were non-white. A 2005 study in California found the defendant of a white victim three times as likely to be penalized by death." I think the death penalty system can be used for racism, but that problem lies with the judges and jurors, as opposed to a systematic problem such as the costs were.

 Another site that features a 'balanced' argument on this topic is Balanced Politics. For this site, the only valid argument I saw was number(s) five and seven, and if the prisoner is of that caliber, solitary confinement is an option. Many of the other arguments are simply irrelevant or not thought through.
  • Take number one, dealing with closure and the emotions of the family for example. With the knowledge of the sky high costs of the death penalty, the government could offer counseling and therapy to the affected families for a decimal of that cost. Personally, the death of another human being wouldn't help me cope because, as stated in number 13 under the arguments for the abolishment of the death penalty, it doesn't bring people back to life.
  • Number two is merely a theory, not backed up by facts. Murder rates are actually higher in states that have the death penalty than those who do not. Please don't take my word for it, verify that fact here.
  • Number six is true, but I refer to the previous Troy Davis case where they had no evidence and that young man is, in my opinion, wrongfully on death row. Science & truth isn't always as prevalent in these cases as I would hope.
  • Number eight is a horrid reasoning for the death penalty. Kill people to make space. Whoever proposed that idea should be ashamed.
  • For number nine, I refer these people back to their own reasoning for number six. If proper science, reasoning and logic is applied then what are the odds of a criminal getting off 'scotch-free'?
     Now go to the reasons that the website lists the death penalty should be abolished, and, offer me a reasonable rebuttal. I don't want to go through each of the 13 reasons but, here's an example for number 11, the possibility that mental patients may be slain.

     With that being said, I think the present death penalty system has too many problems and inconsistencies to be carried through. If two people commit the same capital crime why should one get the death penalty and not the other? When factors like racism, socioeconomic bias and wrongful execution are all part of our system, I believe even those who believe in the death penalty should re-think this. I understand that for some people emotions can run deep with a topic like this but I still believe we have to think rationally. Furthermore, we as people do have power, but enough to demand the death of other humans? Enough to empower our government(s) to l e g a l l y take the lives of others?

  This link leads to two maps depicting the number of people murdered by our government since 1930-2002 and 1970-2002. In case you're mathematically impaired, that means there are 9 years of statistics that aren't on that since the date of this post.

More links on the subject:
88% of top criminologists agree the death penalty does NOT defer crime.
The above link has numerous statistics, very interesting. Please check it out.

Wordpress - Why capital punishment isn't as effective as you think.

Denial of 'Human Rights'?

Reasons against the death penalty.

About.com (Pros and Cons)

Execution facts and opinions



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