The largest intrusion government makes into the lives of its citizens is the right of the state to kill its own. If the state doesn’t like you, it can kill you. We, as citizens, relinquish that right to the state. And, of course, we have the right to revoke that privilege.
There are many reasons to oppose the death penalty. Here are some: 1) It’s wrong, 2) It’s unfair, 3) It doesn’t work. Need more? It also kills the innocent. It also costs three times more to kill someone than it does to keep that person in prison for the rest of their lives.
Why should we stop killing?
For such a morally reprehensible, not to mention outright faulty tool, the death penalty is astoundingly expensive. And frankly, we can’t afford it anymore. There are far more important things to spend millions of taxpayer dollars on than death sentences that take, on average, a quarter of a century to carry out. Why the extra cost? Court costs more than incarceration. We pay judges more than we pay wardens. We pay lawyers more than we pay prison guards. Seemingly “endless appeals” are required by state law and our Constitution. The state (meaning taxpayers) pays for everything. Unless you have millions of dollars, you don’t have enough money to defend yourself in a capital murder case. So we pay for the defense and prosecution of these cases.
You’ve heard by now that prison is more expensive than college. The death penalty is substantially more expensive than prison and college combined. In Arizona, the Grand Canyon Institute is a private non-profit corporation that provides non-partisan research into the costs of various public policies. It is currently tabulating the cost of the death penalty in Arizona, but its conclusions won’t be substantially different from others. Sister Helen Prejean, who wrote the book “Dead Man Walking,” referenced a Florida study that showed prison costs 1/3 of the cost of the death penalty.
Let’s get back to the original three reasons to oppose death.
The death penalty is wrong.
Whether one is a Catholic, Protestant, or Jew, the good book says so. Jesus Christ said so in the Sermon on The Mount. Moses, the law giver, said so in the 6th Commandment sent to him by God, which was carved into stone. I go to church, and I’ve heard countless sermons on Sunday imploring us not to kill. So should we pull the switch on Monday? The answer is clearly no.
The death penalty is unfair.
FBI crime statistics show that of the 20,000 murders prosecuted each year, prosecutors ask for the death penalty in less than 200 cases. So it is easier to win a scratch-off lottery ticket than to be sentenced to death. Yet the odds dramatically increase if a defendant has no money, or dark skin. We put to death an inordinately high number of minority prisoners in this good country.
The death penalty doesn’t work, plain and simple.
It does not accomplish any of the things its proponents want it to accomplish, because the system of death is irreparably broken. Isaiah McCoy was released from death row this January. He lived on death row for many years for a crime he never committed. He is the 157th exoneree released in the US in the last 40 years. The last most recent exoneree in Arizona was a woman, Debra Milke. She served 22 years on death row for a crime she did not commit. I have met three Arizona men who lived on death row who did not in fact commit the crime that made us want to kill them. Ray Krone is white and middle class. He grew up going to church and playing baseball. He’s just like me. Only our state tried to kill him. He is the living example that if they can go after him, they can – and will – go after anyone. Paris Carriger and Lemuel Prion lived on death row. They were then released because they didn’t kill anyone. They are quiet, mild-mannered people. I’ve met them.
Ten people have been released from death row in Arizona so far. Other innocent people are still there, if we don’t kill them first. We kill the innocent and we kill the guilty. But not because they are heinous criminals, and not because they are “the worst of the worst.” Far from it. We kill because we can, to prove we are “tough on crime.” It helps prosecutors win reelection.
The death penalty is not justice. It is revenge. Revenge is never just. And we simply cannot afford it. Plain and simple.
– John Yoakum is a board member of Death Penalty Alternatives for Arizona, Inc., dedicated to ending Arizona’s death penalty. The last most recent board member is former LD9 Representative Victoria Steele. The DPAA advisory board members include Sister Helen Prejean, Ray Krone, former Congressman Ron Barber, retired Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Stanley Feldman, and U. of A. Law Professor Emeritus Andy Silverman.