Earlier this month, the governor of Washington State suspended all death sentences. This has predictably resulted in many people expressing outrage that these convicted murderers aren’t going to be killed by the state. Death row holds some of the worst humanity has to offer. Lives were cut short by these people and there are many who believe that the only appropriate punishment for such actions is to put murderers to death. I understand that.
Unfortunately, when it comes to the death penalty, there are significant unsolvable problems that make the implantation of capital punishment in many cases, just as bad as the crimes for which we’re trying to punish.
Innocent People Have Been Killed By The State
The Problem: The most obvious problem with the death penalty is the potential for the courts to get it wrong. If the court sentences an innocent man to death and carries out the penalty, this amounts to state-sanctioned murder. No one who has a genuine respect for human life and views murder as wrong can accept the killing of innocent people when it can be prevented. This is not a hypothetical. Here’s a list of people who turned out to be likely innocent but were executed by the state.
And here’s a list of the eighteen people who were on death row but were exonerated and removed from death row before to their execution.
Why It’s Unsolvable: Our courts operate on the concept of reasonable doubt. People who are convicted have been proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt, but that’s far from iron-clad or absolute as the links above show. There’s no way to change our court system so that there’s a ‘definitely guilty’ verdict and even if there were, the costs to do so would be even higher than the current court costs. This leads to the next problem.
It Costs Too Much For The State To Execute Someone
The Problem: A common thing heard by pro-death penalty advocates is that they don’t want to spend taxpayer money on keeping a murderer alive in prison. Again, this sentiment is understandable. Who wants to spend any money at all on such individuals if they can help it? What these people often are unaware of is that the cost of a death penalty case plus putting the someone to death is actually significantly more expensive than it would be to simply keep the person in prison for the rest of their lives.
According to a recent study, in Washington State it costs $46,897 per year for an average prisoner. Death Penalty cases cost an average of $470,000 more than non-death penalty cases. Appeals cost an additional $100,000. Those costs alone are enough to pay for twelve years of prison. While I was unable to find the costs in Washington, in California it costs an additional $90,000 per inmate every year to keep someone on Death Row. Assuming similar costs in Washington State that means that every death row prisoner costs the amount of three non-death row prisoners.
Why It’s Unsolvable: Eliminating the court costs in death penalty cases would mean making things more streamlined which inevitably makes it more likely that innocent people will be convicted and executed resulting in more innocent deaths in the quest to kill murderers.
The Death Penalty Disproportionately Executes Non-White People
The Problem: A recent study by the University of Washington shows that if you’re black jurors are three times more likely to impose the death penalty despite similar circumstances in the case. Racism in death penalty cases is nothing new, but studies like this show that racial bias hasn’t gone away. If we are going to seek the death penalty on murderers we have to do it equally. If we don’t, then we must admit that it’s something other than justice.
Why It’s Unsolvable: You can’t cure racism. There’s no way to stop racist jurors from existing. Things have changed and changed for the better over the years but it’s not going to be eradicated.
The Death Penalty Must Be Abolished
When you put all of these things together, it is difficult if not impossible to admit that letting the state put people to death is not in the best interests of our community. If our goal is to stop the deaths of innocent people we cannot allow innocent people to die for the sake of maintaining capital punishment. If we are going to claim to be fiscally conservative we cannot allow counties to bankrupt themselves simply to try a case that may or may not result in a conviction. And we cannot have the capital punishment as a disproportionate deterrent for people who happen to have a different color of skin.
Murderers must be punished. This goes without saying. No one is saying otherwise. Taking someone and putting them in a cell for the rest of their life is a suitable punishment. It’s also a punishment that can be removed if the person is found to be innocent. It’s less expensive. Putting someone in prison for life makes sure the murderer doesn’t have a chance to kill another person on the street.
Killing is wrong. This is a moral value recognized in almost every society. It’s why so few Western Countries continue to have the death penalty as even an option. As a society we must draw the line at anyone killing innocent people including the state. If we allow for anything less we are nothing less than accomplices in the deaths of potentially innocent people. And we are better than that.
– Jack Cameron