Why the Death Penalty is Stupid
SUMMARY OF FACTORS WHICH SUPPORT A MORATORIUM ON EXECUTIONS WHILE SEEKING ALTERNATIVES ACCEPTABLE TO THE PUBLIC
COST OF THE DEATH PENALTY - Various state governments estimate that a single death penalty case, from the point of arrest to execution, ranges from $1 million to $3 million, and could be as high as $7 million per case. However, cases resulting in life imprisonment average approximately $500,000, including the cost of incarceration.
DETERRENCE - Comprehensive studies and the vast preponderance of evidence show that capital punishment does not deter crime and that the death penalty is no more effective than life imprisonment in deterring murder.
FAIRNESS AND CONSISTENCY - In murder cases, there is substantial evidence to indicate that the courts have been arbitrary, contradictory, and unfair in the way in which some people have been sentenced to prison and others to death, which has led the American Bar Association, and 287 organizations, calling for a moratorium on the death penalty.
INNOCENCE AND THE INEVITABILITY OF ERROR - Although sources indicate that 23 innocent people have been executed, these have not been well documented. What is well documented is that since 1970, 76 people have been released from death row because of clear evidence of their innocence.
VIOLENCE AND THE BARBARITY OF THE EXECUTION - In this country, two states permit the use of a firing squad, hanging is an option in four states, and in one state there is proposed legislation to replace the state’s electric chair with the guillotine. Regarding lethal injection, it was observed by the U.S. Court of Appeals that there is substantial and uncontroverted evidence that death by lethal injection poses a serious risk of cruel, protracted death.
RETRIBUTION - Although we rightly anguish over the brutality to the victims, and the lasting effect on the families of the victims, and making the punishment fit the crime; it seems clear that this principle can still be satisfied through alternatives, such as life imprisonment without any possibility of parole.
EFFECT ON VICTIMS’ FAMILIES AND CLOSURE - Although true closure is never really possible for the families, studies have shown that the continual process of appeals necessary to insure due process, along with the returning to court for many years, force families to confront the gruesome details of the crime many times over, making it impossible to get on with their lives as difficult as that is. The question is whether the victims’ needs are met effectively by killing someone else and causing another family grief and pain as well as adding to the cycle of violence.
COUNTRIES THAT IMPOSE THE DEATH PENALTY - The United States now joins such countries as Iraq, China, and Iran in imposing the death penalty, and is one of only six count ries in the world, such as Yeman and Iran, that executes juvenile offenders. The UN Commission on Human Rights voted overwhelmingly to urge member countries to move toward abolition of it.
PUBLIC OPINION AND POLLING DATA - According to USA TODAY (2/23/99), this month’s Gallup Poll shows support for the death penalty at 71%, a 13 year low, however, in addition according to Gallup, an all time high of 38% of Americans now favor life without parole as a substitute for the death penalty. Similar polls show the latter figure as high as 49%.
ELECTIONS AND THE DEATH PENALTY - There is a perception that voting for the death penalty is a sure way not to be re-elected. The evidence is to the contrary. In the last two elections in Massachusetts, no incumbents who opposed the death penalty were defeated by incumbents who supported the death penalty.
MENTORING - Throughout the federal and state correctional institutions, individuals, including inmates removed from death row to the general population, are serving effectively as mentors to other inmates, particularly when the individual has had some form of spiritual regeneration. This positive use of inmates, allowed to live by a life imprisonment sentence, has been praised by corrections officials for helping younger men and women to rehabilitate themselves, particularly if educational, drug treatment, moral and spiritual programs are offered at the institution.
MORAL AND BIBLICAL - In terms of the authority of the Bible, proponents of capital punishment can take certain verses or words from the Bible, particularly from the Old Testament, to support their position. Similarly, opponents of the death penalty can take certain verses or words from the Bible, particularly from the New Testament, to support their position. In my own research and study of the biblical interpretation of the death penalty, I believe that the matter stands on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. Through the actions, words, and very person of Jesus, each of us is given the possibility of knowing the truth concerning the value of life.
CONSISTENT ETHIC OF LIFE - All life - every life is like a "seamless garment." James Megivern is his book The Death Penalty sums it up best. "Life is the issue, and deliberately destroying human life, all human life, any human life is wrong period. Punishment, Yes, Death, No...Every person has universal, inviolable, inalienable rights. Basic to all is the Right to Life.
CONCLUSION - After reviewing all the above factors, it seems clear that death as a penalty fails every conceivable test of rational public policy. Even if one disagrees with one or more of these factors, the overwhelming evidence is that it is lacking in credibility as a rational response. Therefore, we recommend a moratorium on executions in the 38 states, and the federal government, until rational alternatives are found that are acceptable to the public. One alternative, which is gaining considerable public acceptance, is to impose life imprisonment without any possibility of parole. This alternative will not permit the individual to walk the streets again; however they will be given the time for regeneration of their minds and spirits in order to help other inmates, and to give them hope that their lives can be beneficial to others.
This summary is extracted from a larger research document which provides the reader with significant detail on the reasons for a moratorium. For further information, contact the writer, Jack Callahan by E-mail at Barbjack5@aol.com, or through the Interfaith Coalition at 118 East Main Street, Moorestown, New Jersey 08057.(2/14/99)