America, Abolish the Death Penalty

It is often said that you get a good idea as to the character of somebody by the company that they keep. So then, when it comes to the death penalty, the US is rubbing shoulders with reverse human rights champions such as China, Saudi Arabia and Iran, to name but three. The US is unique in that it is the only Western country to still use the death penalty.

The fact that the US is often portrayed as a bastion of freedom, personal liberty and pushing back against the government over-reach, yet still retains the death penalty in a majority of states, is a telling irony. As too is the fact that the US is home to the Unite Nations HQ – an organization that has again recently reiterated that the death penalty should play no part in the 21st century world. [1]

30 US states presently have the death penalty in place, with 20, plus D.C., without and is also used by the federal government and the military.

Let us be clear here. The death penalty is archaic, barbaric and fundamentally undermines the human rights credential of any country that still uses it, and that most definitely includes the US.

The Eighth Amendment of the Constitution clearly proscribes the use of “cruel and unusual’ punishments. Being deprived of your right to be alive has to be the very definition of cruelty. It matters not if the needle, noose or gunshots are swift, the psychological torment prior to that is inhumane and cruel. Death row inmates in the US have to wait, on average, a decade before being put to death. In some cases, the wait can be twice that long. [2]

While that is bad enough, there’s more to come. To state the obvious, once applied, the death penalty is final. No appeals or quashing of conviction can reverse its eventuality. And as much as we like to think that our justice system gets it right every time, it really doesn’t and is prone to error and manipulation.

“Since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, 138 innocent men and women have been released from Death Row, including some who came within minutes of execution.” [3]

Given that miscarriages of justice can and do happen, the irreversible nature of the death penalty makes capital punishment an absolutely unacceptable act of nothing more than state inflicted vengeance.

The argument that it is in some way a deterrent is also wrong. If someone is prepared to kill, it’s fair to say that they aren’t thinking rationally and therefore the abstract idea of being put to death in twenty years-time is not going to come into play.

Ironically, in 1976, the year that the US reinstated the death penalty, Canada abolished it. Since then, Canada’s murder rate has steadily declined and is now at its lowest since 1966. [4]

An “eye for an eye” simply no basis for the twenty-first century criminal justice in the US. And those that justify their support for the death penalty with such simplistic barbarity are simply confirming that the death penalty is about vengeance and nothing else.

On top of that, the death penalty is a much more expensive system to maintain compared to full life sentences:

“The death penalty in the U.S. is an enormously expensive and wasteful program with no clear benefits. All of the studies on the cost of capital punishment conclude that it is much more expensive than a system with life sentences as the maximum penalty.” [5]

Ironic to think that there are so many hang-ups in the conservative movement about public spending, who overwhelmingly support the death penalty. Yet when it comes to that sort of public cost “oh, that sort of public spending is just fine” comes to light.

Add to that the metal and physical strain that the whole Death Row and execution chamber process has on those required to maintain the apparatus of the death penalty system. No-one in any civilized society should be trained and paid for the purpose of taking the life of another.

As things stand, the death penalty is a stain on the reputation of the US and should be abolished forthwith.

[1] to wi172-death-penalty-has-no-place-21st-century-un-chief-guterres