The death penalty has had an interesting week. Utah has reinstituted the death penalty via firing squad as a valid mode of execution after prohibiting it in 2004.
In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf has issued a moratorium on the death penalty, barring any of the 186 current death row inmates from being executed until he is confident that the problems stemming from the death penalty have been fixed.
Wolf said that the state’s death penalty is “a flawed system that has been proven to be an endless cycle of court proceedings, as well as ineffective, unjust and expensive.”
Harsh words, but the death penalty has seen its fair share of controversy throughout the last century, with the Supreme Court weighing in at times.
However, the controversy exists for good reasons. There are many issues with the death penalty that are steeped in the very foundation of it, which ultimately leads to the question of whether the death penalty should be banned. The answer is yes.
One of the key arguments in favor of the death penalty is the cost of keeping a prisoner alive for a lifetime. It is simply common sense to assume that a lifetime in prison is more expensive than keeping someone on death row for several years before execution. Yet, in practice, it turns out that death row is far more expensive.
In fact, one 2008 report from the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, suggested that California could save as much as $137 million per year by rescinding the death penalty.
The issue stems from the fact that the enhanced costs of death row are fundamentally built into the notion of the death penalty.
Death row requires heightened security, which costs more, along with the legal costs and expensive trials that are necessary to ensure the people facing execution are guilty.
Even with these safeguards, the system is very imperfect. From 2000 to 2007, there were an average of five exonerations per year.
In other words, during that seven-year time period, roughly 35 people were sentenced to death, then later released, following the introduction of new evidence (often DNA-based) that proved their innocence. One does not need to be a bleeding-heart hippie liberal to be disturbed by the implications.
If in the modern era, it is still possible to wrongfully sentence people to death, how many innocent people, throughout history, have been executed? How many people in the last few decades?
If the criminal justice system is imperfect, and it is, it is then necessary to avoid permanent measures.
Not to mention the fact that the application of the death penalty is often based on race.
In 1990, a General Accounting Office report concluded that “in 82 percent of the studies [reviewed], race of the victim was found to influence the likelihood of being charged with capital murder or receiving the death penalty.”
In other words, those who murdered whites were far more likely to end up on death row than those who murdered blacks, or any other race.
Further, no scientific study has ever conclusively proven that the existence of the death penalty deters criminals from committing heinous crimes.
The international consensus, at least among allied first-world countries, places much pressure on the U.S. to change its attitude toward the death penalty.
Nearly every modernized first-world country has abolished it, and the U.S.’s retention places it in the same league as countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Iran, Egypt, Cuba and others. Japan and South Korea also allow for it, though the latter has not executed anyone in the past 10 years.
That is not to say that the U.S. should necessarily take its cues from the rest of the world. After all, one of the key philosophies in American thought is that of manifest destiny.
However, it is very telling that the U.S. very nearly stands alone on this issue, when its contemporaries, like the United Kingdom, France, Germany, etc., have all done away with it.
Is the U.S. truly comfortable with nations like Iran and Saudi Arabia having its back on this? Probably not.