Thursday, January 22, 2009

Abolish the Death Penalty

Words I never thought I would write: Abolish the death penalty.

For all practical purposes, capital punishment has already been abolished in the United States. The legalities of finding for capital punishment, and then going through the appeals process, has de facto eliminated executions under the death penalty. Excluding Texas (of 15 executions in 2007, 13 were in Texas), the odds of someone on Death Row being executed are very small – the condemned will live longer on Death Row than outside. Death Row inmates die of many causes, but judicial execution is rarely one of them.

In 2007 there were 3,308 on Death Row in the United States. Since the Death Penalty was reinstated in 1976, there have been 1,138 executions, and over 600,000 murders. Each year since 1976 we’ve executed an average of 38, and over 20,000 have been murdered. Since we only execute to punish murderers, it is obvious that having a Death Penalty (and hardly ever using it), is not a deterrent to murder. Equally obvious is that the tsunami of litigation that follows each death penalty sentence, and delays execution until the condemned die of natural causes, will not go away.

Our system of capital punishment is a creature of legalisms, not justice. The victims of murderers have no rights, no redress, no recourse, and no appeals on the basis of law or mercy. Their murderer, acting as sole judge, jury, and executioner, denied his victim all the rights he enjoys before trail and after conviction.

I’ve known for most of my life that the death penalty was not an effective deterrent to murder, but I supported it because I wanted the murderer to suffer a little of the pain and terror he inflicted on his victims. Rationally, I knew he wouldn’t suffer much, because of our obsession with rendering a monster’s death in the most humane (and antiseptic?) way possible.

I’ve also been aware that our system of infrequent capital punishment is very expensive. In my home state, California, Governor Schwarzenegger wants to expand death row at an estimated cost of $337 million to upgrade security and increase death row's capacity to 1,152 beds. That’s almost $300,000 per inmate just to keep them around a long time in the faint hope that one day we will be able to kill them.

(…In) truth, building more death row prison cells is a concession to the open secret that California's condemned inmates are rarely executed. Since the death penalty was reinstated in California in the 1970s after a brief ban by the U.S. Supreme Court, the state has sent more than 700 men and women to death row and killed 13. An equal number have committed suicide while awaiting an execution date. In all, 54 death row inmates have expired without being executed, most from natural causes.

In essence, we need a bigger Death Row to house the increase in condemned men and women who are not going to be executed. Once the new Death Row is built, the obscene costs won’t go away:

Keeping someone on death row costs $92,000 annually above the cost of a year at a maximum-security state prison, the commission found. The cost of appeals can be three times the cost of the original trial.

I could keep up my Quixotic support of the death penalty. I still believe it is the only real justice for perpetrators of heinous murders. However, the only direction our legal system is taking is towards the elimination of executions regardless of the crime and sentence. If I continue supporting a failed system, I’ll be doubly disappointed because the bad guys aren’t executed, and my taxes will continue to be wasted (at an increasing rate) for lawyers and prison guards.

Getting nothing, and paying more for it, doesn’t make sense.

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