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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?

Afterthoughts

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.

Paul Kelley September 24, 2011 at 02:34 AM
A good article, but in addition, the death penalty is simply wrong.. I have been recently reading about the Civil War (It is the 150th anniversary) its causes and its events. It has been amazing to see how so many fought to preserve slavery, a clearly evil practice inmyview.
Paul Kelley September 24, 2011 at 02:38 AM
You left off the balance of my comment. I think that attitudes toward the death penalty now are similar to the earlier support of slavery. Many are unwilling to acknowledege that both were and are evil and simply wrong.
Jo September 24, 2011 at 02:46 PM
We are known as the United Kingdom, not England. You are adding to the general ignorance of basic geography with this article. Congratulations.
norma shapiro September 25, 2011 at 01:48 AM
I thought this article hit the nail right on the head, but I would add another book and movie to the suggested list: "Dead Man Walking" written by Sister Helen Prejean. It is a good book that increases your understanding--and it is a good read. --- Norma Shapiro
Andrew Sylvia September 27, 2011 at 05:10 PM
England is a country within the United Kingdom, along with Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The four countries hold shared soverignty under the 1707 Acts of Union. The United Kingdom technically consists of three crown dependencies (Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man), several overseas territories (Anguilla, Bermuda, the British Antarctic Territory, the British Indian Ocean Territory, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, the Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat, the Pitcairn Islands, St. Helena, the South Sandwich Islands, and the Turks and Caicos Islands) And while they are independent, the United Kingdom also shares a head of state with nearly every nation-state in the Commonwealth of Nations, countries such as Canada, Australia, Jamaica, etc. Scandanavia is a looser geographic region that consists of Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, with many also including Iceland, Greenland, and the Faroe Islands in the definition.

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