Sunday, October 25, 2009

Another Ridiculous Argument Against the Death Penalty

It's too expensive. Only the government could make executing criminals more expensive than keeping them in prison for life. It's a prime example of government efficiency in action.
The number of death sentences handed down in the United States has dropped from roughly 300 a year in the 1990s to 115 a year more recently. Executions are falling off at the same rate, the report says. 

In the meantime, some 3,300 inmates remain on death row.
The reason the death penalty is so expensive is because we don't actually execute people, except in tiny numbers, primarily because we are rightly concerned with making mistakes.
"[T]he death penalty is turning into a very expensive form of life without parole," said Richard Dieter, DPIC executive director, in a statement. "At a time of budget shortfalls, the death penalty cannot be exempt from reevaluation alongside other wasteful government programs that no longer make sense."

Here's an idea. Instead of pretending that there is something inherently wrong with the death penalty that makes it too expensive, how about we change its application to make it more efficient and less costly? I know, what a radical idea.  As the article notes,

Some officials may be tempted to try to cut capital-punishment costs, notes the DPIC report, but many of those costs reflect Supreme Court-mandated protections at the trial and appeals-court levels. "The choice today is between a very expensive death penalty and one that risks falling below constitutional standards," the report says
This could be avoided by taking two steps. Step one, restrict the death penalty to criminals who are clearly & unmistakably guilty. There are certain criminals whose guilt is beyond a shadow of a doubt, and for whom a trial is merely a formality. Those individuals are the only ones who should be sentenced to death. If there isn't rock-solid, indisputable proof of guilt, the death penalty should not be applied, regardless of the crime.

The second step is to remove all of the delays slowing down application of the death penalty. The reason for those protections is to avoid accidentally executing the innocent. If we have far tighter restrictions on who can be given the death penalty in the first place, those protections become unnecessary, and criminals can quickly and inexpensively receive the executions they deserve. Let's fix the system instead of just throwing it out.


  1. I’m still against the death penalty on principle, but if we must have capital punishment, then I wholly agree with your points: at least make sure anyone who is executed is absolutely guilty. The system would operate far better than it does now, IMO.

  2. Although I'm for the death penalty in principle, I recognize that the way it is used in this country makes little sense. And despite all the delays and cost, we probably still have mistakenly executed some innocent people. There are plenty of criminals in my view who should receive a swift execution, but then there are quite a few others who should never have gotten such a sentence in the first place. It really is a mess of a system.

  3. Uh, I'm right-wing. And atheist. And left-handed. And blue-eyed. And gay.

    I win.

  4. Wrong thread, but that's a pretty good small minority combination.