THE BLOG

Bringing Back the Death Penalty

04/15/2013 11:02 am ET | Updated Jun 15, 2013

One of the things the Republicans want to do now that they have gotten the power in North Carolina is to "kick start" the death penalty again. There have been no state executions in a long time because the law required a doctor to be present and the medical profession said it would discipline a doctor for violating the oath to heal and to save lives. Now that the Republicans are calling all of the shots, they have introduced a bill that says that no doctor can be punished for helping the state perform the legal executions. So let's get started and eliminate that backlog of inmates on death row.

The Republicans have also begun the process of trying to repeal the Racial Justice Act that was delaying a number of potential executions as the inmates on death row were filing suits claiming that they had been given the death penalty because they were black. The Republicans want to repeal this act and get more executions done more swiftly.

These actions have reignited the whole debate about capital punishment. An essay by the famous Christian C.S. Lewis fascinated me because C.S. Lewis made the case for capital punishment. Lewis argued that there were really only two kinds of way to look at punishment. Punishment was intended either to reform, modify and rehabilitate a person or simply to give the person an equal amount of pain for the pain they caused. Lewis argued there was Rehabilitative Punishment or Retributive Punishment.

Rehabilitative punishment is punishment that changes the person and enables them not to want to do the unlawful activity again. It changes the person, turns them around, makes them different. For example, It might be suggested to a person who steals candy bars that they have to eat 1,000 candy bars in a week, and the person gets so sick of candy bars that they never want to see another one again. That is rehabilitative punishment. Of course, this would be the best kind of punishment, but it is not the kind of punishment that can be decided by our judicial system of juries. To be able to know what would make a serial murder stop wanting to kill would take experts, doctors, psychologists and all manner of insights into that killer. Only professionals would be able to offer this kind of punishment. A jury of peers would not be competent to make these decisions.

Retributive punishment is the more simple idea that you should get a punishment equal in value to the crime. One of the oldest law codes know by Hammurabi was a retributive code: an eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth. The Old Testament has a number of these retributive laws. You borrow your neighbor's donkey and it dies, you owe your neighbor a new donkey. This is the kind of punishment a jury can deliberate and decide. Is six months in jail fair to give a person who is drunk and hits a person and kills them? Should it be a year? A jury can deliberate this and decide what it thinks is fair.

C.S. Lewis said that if you had a retributive system as ours is, then logic would say that you have to allow the jury to decide in the most extreme cases that death is the only thing that is "fair" for the person who did such a crime. Capital punishment is the last step logically for retributive justice.

Of course, C.S. Lewis was arguing in the perfect world of pure logic. We do not live in that kind of world, and our juries are not made up of that kind of people. Our juries are made up of human beings. The DNA evidence is already overwhelming that juries make mistakes and convict innocent people. Juries are made up of human sinful people who are influenced and twisted by their prejudices and emotions. That is why the Racial Justice Act was passed and why it has already shown how racism affected a great number of cases. If we were perfect people, able to cast the first stone, then maybe capital punishment would be fitting in very rare cases, but we are not and so we ought to simply decide as a society that we will NOT use the last step in our retributive system.

It does seem like the Republicans need to talk to each other as there is also talk about privatizing prisons and giving contracts to for profit corporations to run the prisons. No doubt those contracts will go to business friends of the Republican party. The elimination of the inmates on death row will reduce the number of inmates that the private companies have to bill the state for and thus reduce the profits of the private businesses. But perhaps that is why they also want to require drug testing regularly for people on welfare. The welfare recipients are supposed to pay for their own testing and failure means no welfare. That sounds like a sure incentive to increase the amount of crime to fill up those spaces in the private prisons.

Actually the figures show that the U.S. already dominates the world in the percentage of people in prison. The top three countries are Russia, Rwanda and the USA, and those other two together don't even come close to our figures. The Republicans are going to help us stay on top.

Somehow Jesus must have seen this coming when he told his people to visit those who are in prison.