Thoughts on the Death Penalty
Is the cost too great?
What do Singapore, Bahrain, Japan, Bangladesh, Botswana, China, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Malaysia, North and South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Vietnam, Yemen, Taiwan, and the United States have in common? They all have a death penalty as a means of curbing crime.
What do Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Cambodia, Costa Rica, Columbia, France, England, Canada, Scandinavia, Spain, Mozambique, South Africa, Togo, Uganda, Senegal, Gabon, New Zealand, Nepal, Paraguay, Panama, Peru and Italy have in common? No death penalty.
The 2000 Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union opposes the death penalty.
A moratorium on the death penalty in Russia makes it impossible to carry out an execution.
Germany abolished the death penalty in 1945 and the Netherlands in 1878. In Brazil it was last used in 1876.
Many nations make exceptions for treason during war time.
Why then do I feel less threatened going to Denmark than going to say Iraq? Apparently the death penalty is not the answer to ridding a nation of violent crime. According to a current Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) report, 35 of the United States had a death penalty in 2010, and 15 did not. Massachusetts is among those in the not column.
California has 697 people on death row. And Texas has 337, which is shrinking quickly. In 2010 Texas executed 24 of its residents. That topped the charts. Many states with a death penalty did not execute.
Concord’s Norma Shapiro, who was a lobbyist on the death penalty for the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, says that the states with death penalties have a higher crime rate. And, she added, a study on the effect of the death penalty showed that the murder rate increases for the two weeks following an execution.
The financial cost of bringing a person from trial to lethal injection is high. In California, Norma said, it costs 10 times more to hear the repeated appeals and other legal fees than to keep some one in in prison for 40 years. According to the DPIC, the California death penalty system costs taxpayers $144 million per year beyond the cost of lifetime imprisonment.
The most comprehensive study in the country, the Center writes, found that the death penalty in North Carolina was $2.16 million per execution above what it would cost to punish all first-degree murderers with life imprisonment without parole. In Texas, a death penalty case costs an average of $2.3 million, about three times the cost of imprisoning someone in a single cell at highest security for 40 years. But Texas is eliminating its last meal request, so that should save them a few dollars.
In Florida it costs $7 million for each death penalty case. In the on-line Significance site, Claire Packham (“The Death Penalty in the USA: is it worth the cost?”) writes that the United States was one of only18 countries worldwide to carry out an execution in 2009. That puts us in an elite group I would prefer not to join.
And then there is the chance of error, as in last week’s nail biter execution. After four appeals, Troy Davis was given sedatives, strapped to a cot and injected with drugs that would give him his final sleep. CNN was there and I was watching, saddened and hoping. Davis’ trial was flawed. Some jury members claimed they were coerced; a key witness for the defendant was not called to testify.
Charles Manson lives on in a California prison, clearly guilty. Davis’ waiting is over.
Why does the United States so doggedly insist upon killing its own people despite the financial cost and the possibility of error?
Recommended Reading: Hugo Bedau and Constance Putnam, of Concord, have written with Michael Radelet, “In Spite on Innocence,” a gripping and moving book on the possibilities of error on the way to the lethal injection. The book tells of 400 of our fellow citizens, people we should protect and defend, wrongly convicted of crimes.
Films: In the classic Breaker Morant, soldiers doing their duty during the Boer War suffer the consequences. And juror Henry Fonda holds out for the defendant in 12 Angry Men.