(After posting a blog yesterday arguing against the death penalty, I realized that the forums would be a much easier venue for a debate to take place.  Here is a link to the original blog post and comments.)

The death penalty is a brutal hangover from primitive legal systems and has no place in modern society. The United States stands alone among the world’s democracies in its use of capital punishment. This form of punishment has no place in a nation founded upon reason, justice, and liberty. Reason dictates that the death penalty can only further incite violence in this culture as legal authority condones retributive killing. Justice sees nothing valuable in a punishment that clearly discriminates against the impoverished lower classes of society. Liberty finds its greatest violation in a government that is allowed to kill its citizens.

Beyond the intrinsically noxious nature of capital punishment, arguments for the measure are completely undemonstrated. The biggest argument in support of capital punishment, deterrence, lacks any supporting evidence. In fact, the evidence seems to suggest that capital punishment actually encourages violence by incorporating state-sanctioned murder into society. Furthermore, most murders are crimes of passion, drunkenness, or both. The argument for deterrence rests solely upon the criminal’s capacity for sound reasoning to prevent a killing. Both inebriation and extreme emotion override the mind’s ability to logically examine a situation.

An even worse defense of capital punishment is the purported necessity of retribution. This puerile argument panders to the primitive mind and raw emotion. What place does this vulgar appeal have in a society based on rational empathy and social advancement? “An eye for an eye” is a Bronze Age intellectual concept that deserves to be left in the past along with slavery, infanticide, and numerous other social institutions which we no longer accept.

Tags: capital, crime, death, judicial, legal, penalty, punishment, system

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I honestly do not know much about the actual experience of prisoners beyond second-hand accounts in magazine articles and television shows. (Who can resist an episode of MSNBC's Lockup?) While I view things like showers and food as necessities, I do agree that it is wrong when prisoners start getting more amenities than the average working, middle-class person.

It does bother me a lot that I am working my ass off trying to juggle school and work to get my bachelor's degree while convicts are often able to earn a bachelor's degree without accruing any debt. And not having any healthcare while I do it is especially irritating.

However, I do know that education is possibly the single greatest factor in promoting a positive change in someone's life. I do not think that we should abolish prisoner education, but I do think that we should find a way to make them pay for it themselves.

I'm all for re-instating the chain gangs and not giving the prisoners a dime for the many hours they're forced to work.

I agree that work should be a bigger focus of the prison system; I have absolutely no problem with inmates being forced to do manual labor for eight hours a day to fund their existence. I am not arguing for prisoner rights or care so much as protesting a punishment that cannot be reversed. I see too much potential for flaw, corruption, and prejudice in the justice system for such an irrevocable punishment to be used.
Maybe I was ambiguous in my phrasing of middle-class amenities. Specifically, I was referring to the free healthcare and college education that is available to many inmates. However, I think that the solution would be to have healthcare and college educations universally available to all citizens. I did not want to suggest that we should retract educational opportunities from inmates because education is probably the single greatest factor in changing someone's life for the better.

You raise good points about the persistent socioeconomic disparity, and how much a child's early environment really can leave the child at a significant disadvantage for functioning successfully in society. Although I myself am at least a full generation removed from abject poverty, my mother's parents both came from incredibly impoverished backgrounds. While my mother never had a chance to attend college in her youth, her siblings did and successfully broke out of the repetitive poverty cycle. (My mother has since returned to college in her late 40s, something for which I am immeasurably proud of her.) However, members of the extended family (second and third cousins) still remain firmly rooted in a trailer park, with male members cycling in and out of prisons.

Anyways, my point of that unnecessary autobiographical ramble was that I remember my mother and aunts observing many of the same things you mentioned in their childhood experiences with their extended family. Specifically, the complete lack of coherent conversation in daily life really does impede a child's developing sense of logic and social interaction. Also, the constant presence of a blaring television only adds to the noise and chaos. Another problem is the cyclic pattern of abuse--physical, emotional, and sexual--that can severely impede a child's functioning in society before they even begin kindergarten. Children of severe poverty are basically screwed before they even have a chance to begin their elementary public education.

This is why I would never suggest that education programs be removed from prison rehabilitation. However, I still cannot help but be frustrated as I watch my own student loan debt climb higher and higher as I try to work my way through school. If anything, I just wish that post-secondary education was more universally accessible; perhaps then people could get the benefit of education before they resort to criminal activity.
I have also wondered if there is a cultural explanation for the pro-capital punishment attitude that seems to differentiate the US from most other industrialized nations. I agree that the increased religiosity in America is most likely a factor, but then I have to wonder what leads to the increased religiosity in America over Europe. The Atlantic Ocean seems to act as some cultural dividing line that I have never understood. I suspect that the divide stems from a drive to forge a unique American cultural identity, an effort which has persisted since colonial times.

Shine (the Red Queen?)

Yes, I have adopted Helena Bonham Carter as The Red Queen from Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland! It opens in three days, not that I'm counting or anything. ;) Ironically, The Red Queen was quite in favor of capital punishment; "Off with their heads!" was her favorite phrase, lol.
OK, I though that it was a China doll, but now I recognize her. I want to see that movie, too! And I have all but given up on movies!
And I have all but given up on movies!

As long as I know that Tim Burton and/or Johnny Depp is involved, I'm there on opening night! :D
If you all want to bitch about how much it costs to imprison convicts, think why do we imprison non-violent offenders for such long periods of their lives? Be pretty cheap to imprison the killer and rapist if we did't jail children and drug users.

Such a good point, Neal. Surely, punitive costs in this country are out of hand, but I curdle at the suggestion that executions should be the solution. And if we are going to use execution, why not extend it beyond murder? After all, if saving money is the ultimate rationale behind capital punishment, why not apply it for all extended jail sentences regardless of the crime committed?

Similarly to what Doone said earlier, legalize marijuana and there will be plenty of prison and budget space would be available to house convicted murderers.
You are absolutely wrong. It costs a heck of a lot more to keep a prisoner for life than it does to kill them, and this has always been the case. Life imprisonment has never been cheap and is even more costly these days.

"The death penalty is funded with our taxes, which makes all of us killers. Never understood why anyone would want to become that which they detest."

That's because you're lumping these types of killings together. I assume you're also against euthanasia and hunting. I do not detest hunting (as long as it's not for sport), I do not detest euthanasia, and I do not detest the death penalty. According to your argument it would seem that I support murder or rape, but that is absolutely wrong. If killing is killing period and you won't support it, then you must hate that our ancestors became hunters and developed society in the first place. Furthermore, what about abortion. Abortion is a type of killing. Should all those who've had abortions be detested since they're involved in killing? I think not. I think we need to be a little more understanding of situations and judge them each. There are some universally accepted moral customs in our society, but sometimes it's not as easy as "yes" or "no", "black" or "white", or "killing" or "not killing".

"In fact, I think the entire justice system of this country sucks. How better to control a populace than jail them."

The justice system does suck. We need to fix it. I've been in jail twice (only for a few days each time). From my experience, jail wasn't punishment. It was just a way of saying, "we can't fix the problem so we're going to put your here while we whistle really loud and pretend you're not there."

I agree that we have to stop putting people in jail for stupid stuff. I was in jail for a DUI when I was 18 and then for a speeding ticket when I was 23. What a silly waste of money. Putting people in jail for selling a bag of pot is a horrible waste of time and money.

Oh ya, there are some supporters here. We can have a debate :)
You are absolutely wrong. It costs a heck of a lot more to keep a prisoner for life than it does to kill them, and this has always been the case. Life imprisonment has never been cheap and is even more costly these days.

Do you have data for this? I'm not being a jackass, I genuinely want to know. I found some studies showing that execution is more costly than life imprisonment (here, here, and here). However, I did also read that one big detraction from the comparison is that lifetime inmates are allowed the exact same appeals process as death row inmates, thereby negating the cost of that of litigation from any cost comparison. I do not know if this true; I thought that death row inmates had a lengthier appeals process. Also, it seems that cost comparisons are notoriously difficult as counties do not separate funds used specifically for capital punishment crimes from those used for all other judicial costs. This last part really troubles me; although I really do not think that financial arguments are the primary concern, I still think that we should be able to see the exact price tag for both options.

That's because you're lumping these types of killings together. I assume you're also against euthanasia and hunting.

Capital punishment is essentially the state deciding that the individual does not deserve to live. Euthanasia is entirely different in that it is generally an act of mercy to alleviate an individual's suffering. I find murder to align much closer to the former. As for hunting, I have absolutely no problems with killing animals for consumption; we are physiologically omnivores, and hunting is only an enactment of our place in the food chain. I hesitate to really include hunting here, as I think that the death penalty debate specifically pertains to killing within the same species and not for consumption. (Well, at least hopefully not for consumption; Kuru does not sound pleasant.)
That was my argument. We can't just lump all types of killing into one category and say any and all killing is wrong. Not when some of us support some types of killing and not others.

As far as the price goes, I don't have data. The death penalty is expensive because of the current system. Three injections of expensive drugs are unnecessary. One drug or one bullet will do the job and could cost next to nothing. The price of keeping a person in jail for life is huge.

Those data on those websites seems totally skewed. How could feeding, housing, protecting (for and against), providing water and electricity for a person every day for the rest of their lives cost less than killing them once? That $137 million per year vs. $11.5 million per year makes no sense. What you are not getting from that data is that you have to compare the cost of the death penalty performed once vs. the entire cost of life imprisonment, not just for one year. One year of free living might cost less than the death penalty, but stretch that out to 50 or 60 years or so, throw in the costs of healthcare for the elderly prisoners, then add on the cost of having to maintain larger prisons to keep up with the total number of prisoners and those numbers break down completely.
That was my argument. We can't just lump all types of killing into one category and say any and all killing is wrong. Not when some of us support some types of killing and not others.

My apologies, I misunderstood and inadvertently argued your point. I agree that all killing is not the same and should not be lumped together. But I find enough similarities between murder and execution that the two closely align in my mind.

I think that the cost of death row becomes so high because the prisoners are all in solitary units, versus the general population who are able to use communal facilities. I honestly do not know the specifics of it, or if death row inmates would even be viable to live in the general population if they were under a life sentence instead, but that is my best guess.

The cost issue is really just another example of how broken the entire system is, regardless of which method actually has the lower pricetag. I am not trying to negate it either way, but I think the ultimate issue is that prison costs need to be reduced period; I just do not think that executions are the way to solve this.
Oh, I see what you were saying. Here's my argument to that:

Get rid of death row. Completely. If we're going to execute a prisoner we do it immediately. No time wasted on death row wasting resources if we're going to execute them anyway. If we aren't sure if a person deserves the death penalty, then we don't give it to them. If they are in the general population and show that they will not be reforming, then we reexamine their case.

I can see how the cost of death row could be a lot, but the cost of the death penalty is probably almost nothing compared to life imprisonment.
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