Sunday, March 1, 2009

Costs of the death penalty

The Roanoke Times has an interesting editorial today on capital punishment. During budget shortfalls within our state, the editors believe that, despite current lawmakers attempts to expand death penalty laws, Virginia should consider stopping the practice of capital punishment. The editors do give voice to the older, moral arguments:
Taking a life in vengeance is an evil that feeds the darker side of human nature. In practice, the death penalty is arbitrarily applied, an injustice that eludes all efforts to correct it. And DNA has laid bare how vulnerable the system is to miscarriages of justice.
Yet, while other states are doing away with capital punishment to save on costs, during difficult economic times, we are expanding the list of crimes available to the death penalty:
While legislators were busily adding to the supposedly special circumstances that elevate a murder charge to capital murder, other states have been considering doing away with the death penalty altogether to save on costs.
Besides the almost inevitable multiple appeals of death penalty convictions, expenses mount because prosecuting a capital case typically takes longer and costs more in the way of lawyers' and expert witnesses' fees.

Then, in many states, defendants are more likely than not to end up with life sentences anyway.
We know that it costs more money to support a death row inmate than an inmate with a life sentence, and if this is one way we could save money - and live into our better angels - then we should, again, consider a moratorium on the death penalty.


Katie said...

From the article:

Granted, Virginia considers it a bragging right that its court system operates far more efficiently than most. It has executed 103 people since reinstating the death penalty in the 1970s, second only to Texas.

This just stuns me. That the state-sanctioned death toll is something to brag about. In a twisted way, it reminds me of the nightly body counts on the news during the Vietnam War. "This is how many we've wasted this week! We're winning the war on _______!"

Communism? Crime? Does anyone even know?

S said...

Some don't just brag, they're downright gleeful about killing. The blog Capital Defense Weekly always posts when an execution has occurred and there are always at least two posters who can be counted on to say, "Yay!" After the informal moratorium during the lethal injection litigation, they were chomping at the bit to get back to the killing.

It's one reason I know I'm right to oppose the death penalty: I don't ever want to be on the side that spews the ugliness the pro-dp'ers do.

Kent H said...

Let me interject with some "devil's advocate" thinking if I may. I am a conservative who believes that government has been given the authority to protect its citizens and execute justice (actual justice)- up to and including capital punishment in heinous crimes. I do however appreciate the argument that the death penalty is executed abitrarily. These incidents are deplorable and scary. I am also appalled at the callous and heartless attitude of some who are "gleeful" about lives being taken in defense of our safety.
But I also have found in my political discussions what I would call an incredible inconsistency. Those who are the most vocal opponents of capital punishment are normally avid supporters of abortion on demand. Wouldn't consistency demand that we hold to pro-life in the case of the innocent if we hold it for the guilty? Until we are a nation that is as interested in protecting innocent life as we are guilty, I'm not sure we have any moral footing to even discuss the death penalty in all its applications (right or wrong).

Drew said...

Kent, you are right, in general both sides do not have a consistent ethic of human life. Democrats are pro-choice and anti-death penalty, and Republicans are pro-life and pro-death penalty.

To the larger point here, the abortion debate aside, don't you think that during severe budget shortfalls, coupled with the moral arguments, that we should save money by putting a moratorium, temporary or otherwise, on the death penalty?

Kent H said...

Pro-abortion, though, assaults the innocent while pro-dp punishes the guilty. Surely, that is a substantive distinction.

On your moratorium idea, if you mean a moratorium on the dp while simultaneously dumping ga-zillions of public funds into everything else -- including (by the way) government funded abortions, I don't know. It seems like a straw man to me. But hey, if liberals want to suddenly get conservative on spending in this regard, I guess that's a start.

Katie said...

How about we start with a moratorium on the phrase "pro-abortion."

Pro-choice is not the same thing as pro-abortion. I don't know a single person who thinks that abortion is good, simple, or easy. Nobody likes the idea of abortion, and very very few are comfortable with the process. There is no "Hooray, abortions for all!" lobby in Washington, DC.

The idea of the pro-choice movement is the belief that women have the right to determine and control what goes on within their own bodies -- that government does not have the right to meddle in such personal issues. It's really a Republican/small government kind of idea when you get down to the core of it.

Additionally, I don't think you should affix the title "pro-life" to those who want to make abortion illegal. It's misleading. With the number of deaths that happened in the United States pre-Roe v. Wade due to botched or unsafe illegal abortions, it is clear that those who oppose legal abortion in any form are not truly supporting life.

Q.E.D., if abortions are illegal, they will continue to occur. Prohibition taught us this, and the prevalence of illegal drug use in this country continues to do the same. This is where logic and common sense have to start overriding vitriol and emotion.

If a woman is in a situation desperate enough to want her pregnancy artificially terminated, she will find a way, safe or otherwise, to do it. The visual of the bloody coat hanger is not an exaggeration of history. Why don't we try to keep the number of women hemorrhaging to death in alleys to a minimum, and work on prevention instead? Like maybe talking to our kids about (gasp!) condoms and birth control and responsible sexual activity? I promise it will not tear apart the fabric of society. Scout's honor.

Kent H said...

I know that in the world you live in, I probably have no leg to stand on. But the fact is, it isn't vitriolic to be horrified by the fact that some 40 million innocent children have been killed before birth since '73. A great deal of those were would-be women who had absolutely no choice for "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" in what should have been the safest place in the world for them. It is a moral as well as legal issue and the bloody hanger is a sad argument. The fact is, I am pro-choice. The adult woman has a million choices before the murder of her innocent child - so pick one. And, as a pastor, I've dealt with way too many post-abortion women to think that they would choose that procedure again.
The fact that illegal activities still occur is also quite irrelevant. I guess we should not outlaw murder, rape, stealing, B & I, armed robbery, unsafe driving, etc. After all, it's still going to happen.
Also, you are quite mistaken about the issue of pro-abortion. Every time this issue comes up in policy discussions, watch Planned Parenthood demand that every conceivable procedure for killing the unborn be protected (along with their funding for said procedures).
And lastly, if you don't think this is (or should be) an emotional issue, take the time to talk with the thousands of mothers who still dream of the child they had killed, or are remined daily of the "choice" they made to end a pregnancy only to find that the results of not having a child are much worse than choosing life. All due respect, this issue breaks my heart and abortion is a bane on this country.