Since I learned about the gruesome reality of the Lockett execution, I have been trying to figure out something meaningful to say about the death penalty. I researched important stories, scholarly articles and shocking statistics to incorporate in my writing. I ran in circles in my mind thinking about the evidence I would need to convince readers that the death penalty is wrong and unconstitutional. I found that there is no combination of research that could fully outline what I want to say, so I have decided to include how I feel. The essence of this blog post is not to discuss whether or not criminals deserve to die. The question is: Do we deserve to kill them?
Over two thirds of the countries in the world have abolished the death penalty by law, and America is the only Western country to still practice capital punishment. The reasoning behind this? According to the award-winning documentary No Tomorrow, one in every eight people who have been served the death penalty have been proven innocent. There will always be cases of executions of innocent people, no matter how developed the justice system is. It will remain subject to human error and cannot be reversed.
In addition, the death penalty violates the most basic human right -- the right to life -- as well as the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: the right to not be subjected to cruel or inhumane treatment or punishment by the government. Furthermore, the death penalty undermines the human dignity of the people who are most marginalized in society. Education reformer Bill Strickland has found, as chronicled in the documentary Waiting for Superman, that in Pennsylvania, 68 percent of inmates are high school dropouts. It should come as no surprise that in the presence of so many failing systems, including education, foster care, and child welfare, we produce children who are also failing.
Today states spend an average of $33,000 a year on each prisoner, while the average private school costs $8,300 a year. Therefore, for an average of four years in prison, it costs the state $132,000. While the state spends $132,000 on a prisoner, we could have sent that same child through a private school from kindergarten through high school and would still have over $20,000 left over to send that child to college.
It can take up to 40 years after the death penalty is served for the execution to actually occur. In addition, death penalty cases are extremely long and usually cost the state up to $2 million, adding to the expense of the death penalty compared with life with parole or preventative services. Aside from the death penalty being a human rights violation, it is expensive, and we have the capacity to keep offenders in prison. The death penalty does not deter, because for many who end up sentenced, death has been something that is expected. Every day they wake up with the knowledge that it might be their last day on Earth thanks to the culture of violence that has surrounded them since childhood. Lastly, the desire for revenge does not serve justice. It is a legitimate feeling, but it is not good for public policy.
How is it possible that we have the power to expel a member of the community whom we, as a nation, have often failed to serve? For many of the criminals executed, every single system created for them has failed them. It cannot be solely defined as a problem of misplaced values. It is essential that we consider the natural environment of each individual, rather than defining their crime as a failure of moral values.
Although many victims feel that executing a criminal would be a legitimate human reaction to the heinous crimes committed, the death penalty is too imperfect, costly, discriminatory, and arbitrary to be a legitimate public policy. Murder is wrong, and by legalizing murder in cases of the death penalty, our fundamental values as a nation are called into question. As a nation founded on democracy, it is humiliating that instead of taking responsibility for failure, we say that you failed miserably, and therefore you deserve to die. We kill people for killing, and somehow we disconnect ourselves from the act of murder. By validating murder as an act of violence that is legal if inflicted by a superior power, again, we are failing to uphold the equal value of all human life. Murder, whether it is legalized or not, is wrong.
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