The death penalty—we all know it is inhumane, cruel, inefficient, and unproductive; why do some among us persist with it? You’d think that with the relative frequency of news of botched executions, indisputable exonerations of innocent people on death row, and the general sense of uncertainty with the system would lead to wholesale changes. You’d be wrong.
In March, the government of Utah reinstated death by firing squad, a method of execution as archaic and barbaric as the concept of execution itself. Oklahoma state, in keeping with technological developments, is en route to become the first state to legalize execution by nitrogen gas as an actual alternative to lethal injection (a method more famous for its unreliability than its fatalities).
The discussion about capital punishment in recent weeks has led to a debate about the best, most humane way to dispose of criminals deemed worthy of death. I have a suggestion: How about we just scrap the whole idea of capital punishment?
The University of Michigan law school, in conjunction with Northwestern University, conducted a study which discovered that between 1989 and 2012 over 2,000 rape and murder convictions were overturned through the use of DNA evidence. According to the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC), a non-profit organization that focuses on disseminating studies and reports related to the death penalty, there have been 152 death penalty exonerations since 1973. That’s 152 human lives that would have been taken by a system that’s as inefficient as it is callous. And it’s unlikely to end there.
On average, inmates spend about 16 years on death row waiting for their demise. Like the New York Times’ Daniel LaChance succinctly put it, “A vast majority of those sentenced in 1977 were not, or have not yet been executed.
Champions of the death penalty cause would argue that there is no better way to deal with the deranged, homicidal, and depraved among us. That instead of merely housing murderers rent-free in our prison systems, we could save the taxpayers a fortune by simply executing them. Yet, a glance at the above statistics prove those points as moot.
The case for the death penalty as an effective deterrent is no better. According to a new study published in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 88 percent of the country’s top criminologists do not believe that capital punishment acts as an effective deterrent of crime. In answering the question of whether the death penalty is a better deterrent of crime than long-term imprisonment, a 2010 Dartmouth College study came to the inevitable conclusion “that executions have no discernible effect on homicide death rates which ... are regarded as adequate indicators of capital murder rates.”
In other words, capital punishment is useless. Yet, instead of fighting to abolish this stain on our democracy, our state governments are researching various methods to carry them out.
There might be sunshine on the horizon, though, with the DPIC reporting that 35 people were executed in 2014, the fewest in 20 years. Sixty-five percent of these took place in three states. The same study reveals another relatively positive sign: in 2014, there were 72 new death sentences, the smallest tally since the mid-seventies.
The world is changing; let’s change with it.