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Why the Death Penalty Should Be Abolished

“To execute or not to execute,” should this even be a question? The death penalty debate is one of the most long-lasting, impassioned debates in politics. Some subscribe to the “eye for an eye” philosophy, while others believe that state sanctioned death is wrong. These are the reasons why the death penalty should be abolished, in favor of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Innocents on death row: According to the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC), as of July 2009, 135 people have been exonerated from death row in the United States. Some of these innocents were exonerated only days before their execution date. This staggering statistic makes one wonder whether any innocent people have been executed in the United States.

Capital punishment is a flawed machine. Evidence proves that the criminal justice system (CJS) is riddled with errors, corrupt officials, and flawed practices, yet this system is still permitted to execute people. The fact so many individuals have been exonerated from death row, including twelve in 2003 alone, should be a red flag that the system needs overhauled.

Take the case of Nathson Fields for example. Fields is the 131st person exonerated from death row. He was granted a new trial after the judge who sentenced him to die was found guilty of taking a $10,000 bribe in the case and served thirteen years in prison. An innocent man was sentenced to die for $10,000, yet the judge who knowingly sentenced Fields to death was only given a thirteen year prison sentence.

The expense: Housing inmates on death row is much more expensive than housing inmates in a maximum security facility. This statement is true even if the inmates receive a sentence of life without parole as an alternative to the death penalty. The pre-trial and trial costs of death penalty cases are much greater than non-capital cases. Also, the cost of appeals and retrials for death penalty cases is astronomical.

Take the following statistics into account, from reports compiled by the DPIC:

  • California spends approximately $63.3 million dollars per year to house its death row inmates.
  • New York reinstated the death penalty in 1995. Since then, the estimated cost of the death penalty in New York equals approximately $160 million dollars.
  • A study conducted by the State of Kansas found that the trial costs of death penalty cases are sixteen times greater than non-death penalty cases.

Instead of spending billions of dollars nationwide to condemn criminals to death, the money saved by sentencing prisoners to life without parole should be spent on crime prevention programs and education, rehabilitation, and putting back into the economy.

Ineffectiveness: In addition to the idea that the death penalty is giving the worst of the worst criminals their just desserts, there is also the belief that the death penalty is a way to deter violent crime. However, in many instances, the opposite can be true.

The brutalization effect is a theory used to describe the spike in violent crimes after an execution in the area where the execution is held. Particularly in high profile cases, an increase in violent crime can even be seen at a national level.

Capital punishment is also ineffective with regard to how it is carried out. Offenders can remain on death row for decades before their execution date. Housing inmates on death row means millions of dollars in additional expenses for state budgets. Then again, with the number of offenders who have been exonerated while on death row, maybe the lengthy death row stints are a blessing.

The moral argument: In many instances the moral argument with regard to capital punishment is centered on the “eye for an eye,” or “life for a life” philosophy. This argument advocates for the death penalty as morally just punishment for capital offenses. However, the real moral question should be whether anyone is qualified to say who should live and who should die. Taking another person’s life via a criminal act, or via capital punishment is wrong.

In most cases, offenders who have been sentenced to death have taken a life. Yet, isn’t it ironic that a society, which supposedly values human life so much that it will take the life of a murderer, will subscribe to a criminal justice system that can potentially execute innocent people?

Capital punishment is a subject that will continue to be debated as long as crime and punishment exist. Whether you are death penalty supporter or abolitionist it is important to examine this method of punishment for what it is, and not become so impassioned that you become blind to the evidence. The death penalty is a form of punishment that has the potential to result in the death of innocents. It is more expensive than sentencing prisoners to life without parole. It is ineffective, and it is morally corrupt – therefore, the death penalty should be abolished.

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