The New Mexico state legislature has passed on to Governor Richardson a bill that would repeal the death penalty in the state in favor of life imprisonment. It’s something that is happening across the country in the wake of a recent report that indicates that it costs more to put a prisoner to death than it does to incarcerate them for life. With pinched budgets, it’s an attractive reason to change one of the country’s flash-point issues.
This is but the latest salvo in the fight to remove what is considered by many around the western world to be a barbaric practice. The noble underpinning of this is the idea that it’s better to let a thousand guilty people go free than to put to death an innocent man. From this have come many reforms: less cruel forms of death, due process, studies that indicate that the death penalty doesn’t affect rates of capital crimes, etc. Now, finally, it seems the scales have tipped so that legislatures can sidestep the philosophical issues and list it all to cold and unfeeling economic realities.
I’m not a big fan of the abolition of the death penalty. I think it is a necessary element to a fair justice system. Of course, I’m not a big fan of a lot of what our legal system passes off as justice, so I once again find myself marching to the beat of my own bagpiper.
The studious argument most often heard in recent years is that the death penalty is not a deterrent. I’ve read other studies that say that it is indeed a mitigating factor in the commission of some capital crimes. Regardless of any of that, there is one unassailable truth: the death penalty deters the condemned from committing more heinous crimes. If for no other reason, that one is amazingly sound and is a large part of the foundation of why I approve of capital punishment.
Another common argument is that it is cruel. Philosophers have argued about this quite a lot. Which is crueler: putting a person to death, or removing for life a person’s freedom? Generally speaking, especially given the hell holes life in many prisons can be, death is arguably the least cruel of the options.
As long as we are being philosophical, how about that idea of free guilty vs executed innocent? Once you consider the balance, I think there are enough safegards in place that wrongly-executed innocents aren’t that huge of a number. I think it can be argued that imprisoning an innocent for a dozen years or more and then releasing them out into the world with a damaged psyche and ruined life map is a less onerous crime.
Of course, the recent rush to life-sentences is blamed on the economy. The thing is, the study says that the primary reason that putting someone to death is so expensive are the years of appeals where the prisoner is on death row and the state has to not only house them but continue paying for legal actions. So…it’s not the death penalty per se that is expensive, it’s the legal circus that accompanies it.
Let’s not be naive here. Many very guilty prisoners have nothing better do to than to clog up the courts and force the government to uselessly spend money on appeals that will likely never stand up. It’s part of the game, after all, what do they have to lose?
Since I’m a strong advocate of restitutional and proportional justice, it galls me that we are currently committing large sums of money to imprisoning someone for life to no good end. The larger society gains nothing except a self-congratulatory pat on the back for being morally superior.
My proposal is that we have a special capital crimes appeals court. Their purpose is to 1) immediately review the trials of capital cases and ensure that the procedures were correctly followed; and 2) allow for some predetermined number of years (2-5, I’d say no more than three) the convicted’s advocates to submit new evidence to prove innocence or substantial mitigation. Once the extended evidentiary period is finished, an automatic petition for certiorari is submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court to review. After that, if the prisoner’s sentence isn’t changed, then it’s death. It allows for correction of errors while also speeding up the whole process with a minimum of frivolous expense.
Of course there is the problem that some states have wildly disproportionate numbers of one race on death row compared to others. I would propose a dual judicial and jury verdict on capital sentencing. If the judge and jury agree to a life sentence, then that will be entered as the sentence of record. If, however, the judge and jury disagree on life imprisonment, then the sentencing is determined by a neutral judicial panel of review. The purpose of this is to try to remove some local biases from leaning towards having one separable group from being sentenced unfairly due to local predispositions.
As for the method of death… honestly, I think it should be in line with how the criminal act was committed. Where is the justice in someone terrorizing a family before butchering them, and then getting to be anesthetized before being put to eir[[daggerto]] own death? Doesn’t seem right, though I do appreciate not wanting to make others into executioning monsters. Yes, I know that it seems a bit vengeful, but even if it does nothing to stop someone from murder, at least it might make them a little less cruel.
In the end, though, I think it’s inevitable that the anti capital punishment crowd will have their way. If we as a society are going to be forced to pay for imprisoning these poor excuses for their rest of their lives, then I think we need to start reforming what prison is for someone who has been permanently excised from the general population.
First and foremost, the prisoners must be kept safe from one another in a clean environment, though solitary may be too extreme for most. It offends me the climate of fear that is allowed to endure inside of prisons today. The food should be what the average person would consider to be edible on a daily basis (some allowance made for religious and vegetarian sensibilities, but nothing burdensome). Should prisoners want to slightly improve their lot, they can work to earn small privileges, such as library, letters, or increased visitor time. This work needs to be something that is generally beneficial to the public at large and not just busy work.
See, that’s the necessary trade-off for no death penalty. You simply disappear. You aren’t put into a cruel environment, but neither are you anymore a citizen with full rights. You will be sheltered. You will be fed. You will be kept safe. Beyond that…well, you made your bed.
Does this seem harsh and bleak? Shouldn’t it? Shouldn’t there be a severe consequence for what we consider to be an outrageous crime? We aren’t being cruel. Basic needs are being met. As they can’t be counted on to ever be members of our society, then there should be a limit as to what a just society owes them.
I do think that a prolonged imprisonment is a much crueler fate, generally speaking, than being put to death. As I said, regardless of whatever else it does, it prevents the possibility of that person ever committing another crime. If money is a concern, then we need to streamline the process and not allow money-eating games to be played within the rules of the system.
As an aside: I have to say that I find it so ironic that so many people who are pro-choice are anti-death penalty, and those who are pro-death penalty are anti-abortion. Seems like both sides like living to a double standard. As I’m both pro-choice (not necessarily pro-abortion, but as a male I really don’t have a say in the matter) and pro-capital punishment, I’m at least consistent.