[Opinion] Why The Value In Abolishing The Death-Penalty Must Not Be Purely Fiscal

The debate as to the merits of the death penalty within the United States has been argued since it’s inception back in the early 17th Century. The growing support for its abolishment over the past several years can be attributed to certain reasonings, dependent on who you gather your information from. Whether ethical, constitutional or even financial, the increasingly evident cooling as to the use of the death penalty should be further stymied by the growing number of exonerations each year.

The National Registry of Executions last week announced that for a third year in a row, exonerations have hit an all time high in the United States. With the news that within the space of only five years, the exoneration rate has doubled to an average of more than three per week.

The ever growing trend for cases with strict sentences being appealed and subsequently overturned is growing. This trend, aided by an increased scrutiny relating to a minority of prosecutors and State experts work methodology and skill-sets, demands further attention.

The increase in exonerations, points directly towards far more innocent people having been executed in the United States, than may have previously been known. In short, whilst the actions of several Counties throughout the US should be applauded for introducing Conviction Integrity Units such of that headed by Kim Foxx in Cook County Illinois, time is very much of the essence for those who are on Death Row. When considering that 29 Counties in the US have adopted CIU’s or (Second-Look Procedures), that still leaves approximately 3000 that have not. Whether certain Counties are in as much need of such watchdogs could be debated but make no mistake, injustices do occur everywhere. If even one quarter of the Counties in the US were enabled with them, the exoneration numbers would undoubtedly be far greater.

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Kim Foxx. State Attorney, Cook County, Illinois.

Before blinding the reader with an array of statistics, It’s important to assert my opinion as to them. After all, statistics, whilst useful, can be shaped to each persons want. Whether it be through selectivity or pure omission, I appreciate that they should be used carefully and not solely, to help express an opinion.

31 States in the US still have the death penalty at their disposal. Of those, 20 States have carried out executions over the previous 10 years. Whilst the general consensus that fewer death row inmates are being executed is true, 2017 will mark the first increase in executions since 2009. With no further executions scheduled for this year, 2017 is likely to be an exception to the recent rule that executions are declining, yet the recent spending of $900,000 on an execution chamber in Nevada, a State that has not enforced the death penalty since 2006 is concerning.

The sheer length of time spent by inmates on death row before execution is increasing. With less executions taking place, this is inevitably going to continue to do so. At present, the average time for an inmate to be incarcerated before execution is approximately 17 years. This of course varies from State to State. The differences between these is somewhat of an eye opener.

Texas, the United States leading component of Capital Punishment, has implemented the Death-Penalty on a total of 545 occasions since 1976. Of the 1465 executions that have taken place in that time, over 37% have taken place in Texas. Virginia, the State with the second most executions since 1976 has less than 8%. What do these statistics tell us and how open to interpretation are they?

California presently has 744 prisoners on Death-Row (As of April 1st 2017), over 3 times as many as that of Texas who houses 247. Clearly, one of the reasons that Texas has less, is down to the fact that they actually implement the Death-Penalty, whereas California, with no executions in the previous 10 years and ‘only’ 13 since 1976 does not. When totalling the figures, the situation becomes clearer. Taking into account that close to one quarter of prisoners die on Death-Row awaiting their execution, the number of people being sentenced to death between the two States in very comparable.

Tax payers monies are being used to house inmates. In California the average cost per Death-Row prisoner is approaching $200,000 per year. Spending close to 150 million dollars per year on a system that is not implemented is bound to raise questions. An article detailing this issue by Mother Jones over 4 years ago went into great detail looking into California’s spending on their Death-Row system. More recently, organisations such as Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty have been championing the opinion that, put simply, Death-Row doesn’t pay. Whilst the CCATDP ‘believe that capital punishment is a violation of our principles of valuing life’, fiscal responsibility plays a role in  their reasoning for wishing to abolish the Death-Penalty.

Tackling the Death-Penalty from a purely fiscal standpoint comes with its pitfalls. Whilst California is a fine example for doing so, Texas is at the opposite end of the spectrum. California has no reason to entertain the Death-Penalty. Using this ‘fiscal’ logic though, Texas still does, whilst admittedly to a lesser degree than it once did. Stays of executions such as that of Clinton Young saw Texas record seven deaths by lethal injection in 2017. Questions raised as to the innocence of Death-Row prisoners Robert Pruett and Ruben Ramirez Cardenas failed to save their lives however as both were executed since October of 2017.

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Clinton Young: Currently on Death-Row at the Polunsky Unit, Livingston, Texas.

Singling out Texas is unfair however, Missouri, Georgia, Florida and Alabama have all shown a propensity for carrying out the Death-Penalty whilst Arkansas displayed it’s willingness to effectuate capital punishment by executing four inmates this year.

Exoneration numbers will continue to rise with not only the aforementioned establishment of Conviction Integrity Units, but also the rise in public interest and awareness. Figures pertaining to predict the number of wrongfully incarcerated are to a degree subjective. Whatever the figures are however, human life cannot be measured in numbers. Counterbalancing rising numbers of known wrongful convictions with falling numbers in executions is all very well, but innocent citizens are still being put to death.

From a personal perspective, I am staunchly against the death penalty. A progressive society is not bettered by eradicating the ‘problem’ at its end. A progressive society invests, primarily through education in tackling societal issues at their root. To believe that by taking a citizens life, will in any way shape or form contribute to solving serious crime is to believe that, in doing so, the problem will go away. It will not. The truth is, there is no solution. Much like ‘deserve’, the dirtiest word in the English language, ‘solution’ is often used by parties suffering from illusions of grandeur.

Serious crime, whether it be in the US or anywhere in the world is not something that can be solved. Of course, crime rates should, and certainly can be bettered. Tackling serious crime must be undertaken from the beginning, and not the end of a persons journey that lead to whichever crime they committed. Crimes committed should of course be punished, yet an understanding, as to why these crimes are perpetrated must not only be known, but acted upon to limit their enactment.

Whilst my beliefs that no person, whether innocent or guilty, should not suffer Capital Punishment may not ring true with all. I would like to believe that the possibility of an innocent person losing their life is abhorrent to everyone. With the inevitable increase in wrongful convictions already being witnessed it is time for the remaining States in the US who still implement Capital Punishment, to abolish it now.

Many facts and figures quoted, taken from The Death Penalty Information Centre.

All statistics correct as of April 2017 or later.

If anyone wishes to contact me relating to this article please feel free at either: jdidcock@betherain.org or via twitter JamesDidcock@51kikey




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    James Didcock


    Writer at betherain.org Non profit organisation detailing Justice Reform and Environmental Issues. Get involved and make a difference.

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