June 30, 2014

Argument for death penalty is weak, at best

By Cheyene Miller
Staff Writer


Defending the fact that in 2014 the United States still practices capital punishment is becoming increasingly difficult. The data is starting to fall exclusively on one side of this issue and yet 32 states, including Kentucky, still have the death penalty. The Bluegrass state reinstated the death penalty in 1976, and since then we have executed three death row inmates. Let’s look at the conventional arguments for why executing these men may have been the right decision.

“The death penalty deters crime.” This claim sounds very believable, yet numerous studies and extensive research have confirmed that there is no evidence that capital punishment is a deterrent to crime.  States within the U.S. that have abolished the death penalty haven’t spiraled into dystopian chaos.  The data shows that if anything, states without capital punishment actually have lower murder rates.  So we can go ahead and throw out the idea that the death penalty is stopping the most violent of offenders.

“Why should we have to pay for the housing of a convicted criminal for the rest of their life?”  Money has to be brought into the equation, and reasonably so.  It does seem completely unfair that the state should have to shell out money for a criminal who is probably responsible for a heinous crime.  But since we’re concerned about money, it should be pointed out that executing a prisoner actually costs nearly 10 times as much as keeping someone in prison for life.  Some people say that we should use cheaper, more effective methods of execution to save money, but actually the chemicals used for lethal injection only run about $83 per case.  The vast majority of the expenses come from the convicted going through the excruciating appeals process.

Since we’re talking about the appeals process, we should point out that incorrect convictions are more common than one would think.  Recent research found that around 4 percent of death row inmates are given false convictions.  While 4 percent may not seem significant in black and white, it becomes extremely significant when you realize that we are executing people based on false convictions.  If we didn’t have the court system we had and simply took convicted criminals from the courtroom to the electric chair, who knows how many innocents we would execute.

Finally, the most important point that pro-capital punishment advocate’s spout: “It gives solace to the minds of the victim’s family.”  This is probably the most credible point, and I certainly sympathize with anyone who has ever lost a loved one to murder or another serious crime.  However, the fact is that the U.S. ranks 5th in the world for executions behind China, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.  We tend to distance ourselves from the social policies of these countries and aspire to be more like the rest of the developed world, like Europe, Canada and Australia.  Most of these countries have thrown out capital punishment, while some have the option of using capital punishment but simply refuse to do so.  They have come to the conclusion that the death penalty’s drawbacks outweigh its benefits.  It’s time we came to the same conclusion.