Today, we are going to take an in-depth view into one of America’s most controversial topics: the death penalty. The form of capital punishment was the subject of national news earlier this year when 22-year-old Dylann Roof was convicted of 33 federal criminal charges, including 9 counts of murder after he conducted a mass shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in June 2015. Roof was eventually sentenced to death by lethal injection on January 10th of this calendar year.
Whether the death penalty should exist in the United States remains up for debate. What is indisputable, however, is that it is currently legal in 31 states across the country. California alone has over 700 death row inmates as of 2016, yet they have only administered 13 executions since 1976. For years, critics have felt that the death penalty was barbaric, unethical, and violates the right of an individual’s life. Supporters, on the other hand, feel that it is a deterrent to crime that is necessary to reduce violent crime.
Obviously, the purpose of the death penalty isn’t to racially profile. However, one 2013 study found that jurors in Washington state were three times more likely to recommend a death sentence for a black defendant than for a white defendant in a similar case. In fact, in 96% of the states where there have been reviews of the death penalty and its correlation to race, there was shown to be a pattern of racial discrimination. It is worth pointing out that in 2016, blacks and whites made up 84% of death row inmates while Hispanics made up just 13%, with the remaining 3% filed to “other”. Women have also been speculated to get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the death penalty, with just 56 of them total as of 2015. That constitutes just 2% of the total death row population.
Whatever side of this debate you are on, a common ground that most, (hopefully all) people would agree on is that innocent people shouldn’t be executed. Over the years though, studies have shown that the US government has carried out several executions as a result of what were later learned to be false convictions. As you come to find out, these false convictions aren’t as rare as you might think. Since 1973, 156 death row inmates have been released with evidence of their innocence. Statistics show that around 4% of death row inmates are, in fact, innocent. It’s a haunting reality that has sparked outrage from many of those opposed to the death penalty.
Is The Death Penalty An Effective Deterrent?
One of the main arguments by those who support capital punishment is that it will serve as a deterrent to others who may be contemplating committing violent crimes. The evidence and rationale for this claim though, is growing increasingly thin. Back in 2012, a report by the National Research Council stated that those claims are “fundamentally flawed” and should not be used when legislators are making policy decisions. A survey conducted back in 2009 showed that only 5% of the criminology experts they surveyed believed that executions helped lower the overall homicide rate. The primary source for executions by 34 states that either currently, or in the past have used the death penalty, is lethal injection, with over 1,200 such cases since 1976. Evidence though for keeping the death penalty in place is getting increasingly difficult to come across, as Audrey Gaughran of Amnesty International explains:
“There is no credible evidence that the death penalty is a particular deterrent to violent crime.” -Audrey Gaughran, Director of Global Issues, Amnesty International
A key factor in this debate is the financial pros and cons of giving someone life in prison without parole as opposed to a death sentence. Executions, when carried out, are surprisingly costly. In California, for example, executions have cost tax payers over $4B since 1978 and that number is only growing. Overall, that evens out to around $308M per execution. That means in the state of California, it is actually ten times more costly to give someone the death penalty than life in prison. Texas has administered a whopping 539 executions, nearly 5 times more than the next highest state. A death penalty case in the Lone Star State costs around $2.3M, about three times the cost of imprisoning someone in a single cell at maximum security for 40 years. In other states like Kansas, it costs about $400,000 on average to defend a case where the death penalty is sought, as opposed to just $100,000 where it was not sought.
The death penalty is still, and will likely remain an issue that many people are torn on and a lot of that goes back to ethicacy. The public remains split on this and has been for a very long time. However, a 2009 poll found that a clear majority of voters would choose an alternative punishment to execution. Another poll that surveyed police chiefs found that they ranked the death penalty dead last as a way to reduce violent crime. The police chiefs also considered it the least effective use of taxpayers’ money. Overall, the death penalty hasn’t proved to be an effective deterrent to violent crime