Sunday, November 29, 2015

Alternatives to the Death Penalty

Change is inevitable with the passing of time, and it seems that people have become more and more open to the idea of ending capital punishment. As the graph above shows, states without the death penalty seem to greatly prefer life in prison to the death penalty, while states with the death penalty show a slight preference for life in prison. While the latter may seem insignificant, it represents an evolving public attitude towards the death penalty, which could lead to some positive changes in the future.

I received a comment on one of my previous posts pointing out that the death penalty could relieve on problem - the overcrowding of American prisons. However, I would like to point out that this is not the only option available. This article provides ideas for new options, excluding capital punishment. It instead suggests revamping habitual-offender laws, implementing misdemeanor reform by decriminalizing offenses, limiting the use of pre-trial detention, and imposing non-prison penalties on those arrested for technical parole and probation violations.

Life in prison is clearly the most appropriate alternative. Some people may be misinformed and believe that getting rid of the death penalty means criminals will be put back on the streets to cause more damage. This is not the case. Instead, life in prison without parole is the most likely alternative. As I've pointed out in previous posts, it costs less than capital punishment, and prevents the deaths of the wrongly convicted.

Another comment I've gotten in response to one of my posts states that capital punishment may be more humane than life in prison. However, I'm not sure anything is less humane than vengeance-driven legalized murder. This also leads into a bit of a gray zone - if a criminal actually preferred the death penalty to life in prison, should that option be offered? Honestly, this is something I'm not entirely sure there is a good answer to, but I'm curious to see if anyone else has a solution - if you do, leave a comment.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Death Penalty Worldwide

Above is a map that shows the use of the death penalty in nations around the world. Most of Europe has done away with the death penalty altogether, and it has shown results. Meanwhile, the US has retained capital punishment, and as I described in a previous post, the US still has a very high violence rate, especially in comparison to countries which have abolished it.

Some may still be skeptical of banning the death penalty as they believe it is the best option when it comes to dealing with crime. However, the life sentence without parole is a cheaper and more humane alternative that is used throughout the world. It has also been shown that inmates sentenced for life also are less violent in prison than others - Alabama officials noted that their life without parole inmates commit 50% fewer disciplinary offenses per capita than all other types of inmates combined.

While it may take a while for the idea to catch on, I think there is a possibility that the US will continue to ban the death penalty. The ideal is to completely get rid of it, but even a little progress is better than none at all. By spreading the facts about capital punishment, a change can hopefully be made.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Democratic Candidates on the Death Penalty

With the 2016 political candidates making their opinions known regarding hot button topics, the views on the death penalty of Democratic candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have finally been made clear. Clinton is in favor of the death penalty in egregious cases, while Sanders believes the death penalty should be completely demolished.

If you've read any of my posts so far, you probably already know what I'm going to say here - Sanders has the right idea, Clinton doesn't make very good decisions (surprise, surprise), and the death penalty is a Very Bad Thing that shouldn't exist. At the same time, however, I do understand the reasoning behind supporting the death penalty. The argument is that if a person were to murder or rape or do some other unforgivable crime, then the best option is to kill them before they can do something completely reprehensible again.

However, I think there is a flaw there - the death penalty is killing people who kill in order to show that killing people is wrong. When you try to set an example by doing the exact thing you are going against, your message becomes muddled and hypocritical and setting these higher punishments only encourages people to try and slip through the cracks.

Anyway, what I'm getting at is that Sanders is a pretty neat guy and you should probably be paying attention to him and the points he's trying to make. If you want to know more about the political parties and their stance on the death penalty, you should take a look at this graph:

Race, Poverty, and the Death Penalty

A popular topic in politics nowadays is racism. Police brutality has sparked controversy over how unjust our system is, but not many people are aware of how it affects those on death row. As it turns out, African-American defendants receive the death penalty at three times the rate of white defendants in cases where the victim is white. In fact, defendants are less likely to receive the death penalty in cases where the victim is not white. This shows that the race of the victim is just as important as the race of the defendant.

I am not advocating for an increase in death sentences to balance out this discrepancy. While it is unfair that non-white victims are underrepresented in death penalty cases, I think it is more important to abolish the death penalty all together. This would eliminate the race issue altogether and prevent the possibility of a person's race playing a role in the end of their life.

Race of Homicide Victims in Cases Resulting in an Execution since 1976

On another front, the poor are also more likely to receive the death penalty. Over 99% of the people on death row are indigent, according to one U.S. Appeals Court judge. This has to do with the fact that the poor are mostly unable to hire a good lawyer.

I think that these issues with the justice system clearly exhibit the unfairness of the death penalty. It disproportionately affects the poor and non-white, and this problem of course expands through all aspects of our justice system and not just death row. While finding a solution for the whole issue is more difficult, I think a step can be taken forward simply by ending the death penalty.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Cost of Death

One of the most popular arguments against the death penalty is the high cost of incarceration for inmates sentenced to life without parole. Many think that because a person is being supported for life in our prisons, it means that it costs more money to keep them alive than to simply end their lives. However, recent studies show that this is not the case.

While the actual cost of death is quite low, the process of sentencing a person to death and their time in court is significantly costs much more than sentencing someone to life in prison. This can also be seen in the image above - a study by the Urban Institute indicates that cases where the death sentence is not sought costs, on average, around $2,000,000 less than a person receiving the death sentence. These added costs are in the areas of attorney pay, hiring experts, the potential unpredictability of the case, mitigation investigations, juries, and housing.

Clearly, the life sentence is quite a bit cheaper in the long run, and arguments against it often have little evidence to back it up. It also wouldn't be possible to lower these costs, as doing so could compromise a person's right to justice and a fair trial, especially when their life is on the line (not to mention the death penalty itself is hardly just anyway).

For more facts and information regarding the cost of the death penalty, this site provides valuable information, including how these high costs can affect other measures of crime control. Money spent on the death penalty is less money spent in other important areas, which should definitely be funded before funding a person's execution.

This image also gives another look at the costs of the death penalty from a study in July 2012, specifically in California, a state where the death penalty is legal:

Monday, November 2, 2015

My Stance on The Death Penalty

In my opinion, the death penalty should not exist. I disagree with it on moral grounds, on its implications about the role of justice in society, and because no justice system exists that can guarantee the rights of the wrongly accused.

The first of these reasons is, of course, entirely personal. I just don't believe it's right to end a person's life against their will, regardless of their past wrongdoings. As the old saying goes, "two wrongs don't make a right," and while that is an oversimplification of the topic at hand, I do think it applies here to some degree. The families of victims should not be expected to forgive someone if they are responsible for the death, but I don't think the answer is to get revenge.

Secondly, I think the existence of the death penalty says a lot about our nation's view of justice, and I don't think the implications are positive ones. The idea that our government can end a person's life if they don't abide by the law seems wrong to me. Cruelty is not an appropriate response to crime, and studies have shown that the death penalty is not a deterrent to the committing of crimes. Crime rates tend to be higher in areas of the country where the death penalty exists, while the areas that have outlawed capital punishment have lower crime rates overall.

Third, if a person were wrongly accused and convicted, the death penalty could unfairly end their life. In several cases, new evidence has been discovered that casts doubt on the guilty ruling given to some people who were later sentenced to death. It simply isn't possible to always be 100% sure a person is guilty, and I don't it's worth possibly ending the lives of the innocent in order to punish the guilty.

I hope to do more research and learn more about the death penalty in order to further prove my point. My next blog posts will cover more ground and explore different aspects of the death penalty.