by David Atwood
Pax Christi Texas
I am continually amazed how far death penalty advocates will go to perpetuate the machinery of death in Texas. This time pro-death penalty legislators in Austin are pushing a bill that would shield the identity of the suppliers of the lethal drugs used to execute prisoners in Huntsville. The rationale of these legislators is that the suppliers of these drugs will no longer provide them for executions if their identity is revealed and that executions might come to a grinding halt as a result. Now wouldn’t that be terrible.
Over the years, the proponents of capital punishment have used many arguments to continue to kill prisoners. Here are some examples and my reply to their arguments:
- Rationale: If we don’t execute these people, they will kill again. My Reply: Texas now has “life without parole” as an optional punishment for capital murder. This sentence allows us to keep society safe without becoming killers ourselves.
- Rationale: The death penalty deters others from committing murder. My Reply: There is no firm evidence that the death penalty deters others from committing murder. In fact, several studies have shown that the death penalty does not deter others from committing murder. Most murderers are not thinking about consequences or do not think that they will be caught. Many are high on alcohol or drugs and are not thinking clearly. Criminal justice experts have said that murder rates are primarily affected by demographics, economics, the drug trade and community policing efforts.
- Rationale: If we speed up executions, they would be a greater deterrent to violent crime. My Reply: Speeding up executions would also mean that the chances of executing an innocent person would increase.
- Rationale: The death penalty gives the family of the victim “closure”. My Reply: While an execution may give some families of victims the satisfacion of “payback”, there is little evidence that an execution actually provides “closure” or any semblance of “healing”. What does bring healing is a loving community that helps the family through the ordeal they are experiencing and move on with their lives in a positive fashion.
- Rationale: The death penalty saves the state money. My Reply: The high legal expenses associated with the death penalty make it significantly more expensive than life in prison. This wasted money could be better spent on effective crime prevention programs and victims’ services.
- Rationale: The only people who get the death penalty are the “worst of the worst”. My Reply: Whether someone ends up on death row or not has more to do with the quality of the accused’s legal defense, the race of the victim, politics and geography.
- Rationale: People who commit murder are monsters who deserve to die. My Reply: It is true that a person who commits murder has done a monstrous thing and caused great suffering. However, if one looks into the background of people on death row, what you often find is a history of horrible child abuse and neglect, mental disabilities and drug/alcohol abuse. Furthermore, once confined in prison, many people become rehabilitated and are no longer a threat to society.
- Rationale: Our criminal justice system is fair to all people and ensures that we always get the right person. My Reply: We are aware of 12 exonerated death row prisoners in Texas alone and over 150 nationwide. There is also good evidence that Texas has executed several innocent people. The death penalty system is a human system that is imperfect and will always remain so.
- Rationale: The death penalty is needed to “restore order” to society. My Reply: This is not the experience of many states and nations. Eighteen U.S. states have abolished the death penalty and seem to be doing fine. However, murders still occur on a regular basis in Texas although we have had more than 520 executions. Many people believe that we would have more “order ” in our society and less crime if we would spend more of our scarce financial resources on effective crime prevention measures such as improved child protective services, youth and family services, mental health services and prisoner rehabilitation programs.
- Rationale: The Bible demands an “eye for an eye” approach to justice. My Reply: The “eye for an eye” concept comes for the Old Testament. This concept continues a cycle of violence and vengeance in society. In the New Testament, Jesus rejects the “eye for an eye” concept and replaces it with compassion, forgiveness and mercy. “Restorative justice” is a smarter approach to crime than “retributive justice”.
In summary, the zeal of the pro-death penalty advocates is misplaced. If they want to make society safer, they should advocate for crime prevention programs that are truly effective.
David Atwood is the Founder of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.