Atheists: What's worse? Execution or life without parole?

I've been reading about the home invasion case that occurred in Cheshire, Connecticut on July 23, 2007. This deeply disturbing act of brutal violence is one of the worst criminal outrages in the history of that state.

Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky robbed, raped and murdered Jennifer Hawke-Petit, age 48, Hayley Petit, age 17, and Michaela Petit, age 11 in their home. The husband and father, Doctor William Petit, escaped with severe injuries and will live with the memory of these events for the rest of his life. Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky were caught, found guilty, and are awaiting execution.

Everyone wants these men sentenced to worst punishment imaginable. But is that really execution?

Most religious theists claim the soul survives the death of the body. The courts openly profess the same belief, having issued the death sentences with the words, "May God have mercy on your soul."

But I don't believe in God, souls, or supernatural punishment. I accept the medical science which shows consciousness ends with the destruction of the brain.

Steven Hayes once said, "Death for me will be a welcome relief..."
Joshua Komisarjevsky has said, "I will never find peace within."

The reality of the death penalty in this case seems rather stark. Each of these reprehensible criminals gets a quick, painless exit from a lifetime of punishment in a merciful fulfilment of his own wishes. 

Or do you see it differently? Is death by lethal injection the worst punishment you can imagine? How does execution compare with life without parole in solitary confinement? What is the atheistic perspective?

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Without being too judgmental, I have to say that this kind of mentality is what creates a "punishment" system vs a "rehabilitation" system.  It is what creates offenders who actively repeat crimes once released, so they can get back into the "comfort" of their known environment because going into prison at 18 or 20 and spending 30 years there and then being kicked back into society is a shock that most of these people are incapable of dealing with.  Either than or it just reinforces the animalistic side of their nature. 

Don't get me wrong, I completely understand the sentiment. Even though it is incredibly inhumane to just throw someone in a hole and forget about them, most people are completely comfortable with this.  They "justify" it by claiming that "they did such and such wrong, so they should be punished." And these people would be right.  But I think it's very telling that our society is more than happy to just throw people in holes and forget about them, all the while feeling self-assured that they are "nice people" because they give homeless people a dollar once a month.

Sorry, I guess I'm just less of a vengeful and self-righteous person than most people in the "civilized" world.

@ Keith Pinster

Me thinks you're starting to scratch the answer to the problem, I've come to think of it as the societal self-delusional condition.

We as a society view the result (the crime) and immediately launch into the punishment, revenge, rehabilitation debate without seriously considering society's role in the cause.

@Gregg   So we are comfortable issuing punishment, but abdicate the responsibility of cause.  Interesting point. 

Add to that, the purpose of punishment is to correct aberrant behaviour.  It seems odd, to "correct" someone until they die.  What is the point of correction in that instance.  If as a society, we are looking for "revenge", then we should be open about it and apply torture.  Cotton-wrapping the "revenge" into a mock correctional system seems to me to be an exercise in self-deceit.

@ Strega,

What is the reason behind violence against others?

Why have we designed and maintained a welfare system that continues propagate itself?

Why does our school system rank so low in the first world?

The cause of violent crime starts a long time before the crime itself.

If we as a society are not willing to be critical of our own systems, our systemic problems will continue to worsen,

c'est la vie

@ Gregg   I am with you all the way on this :)

@Blaine - "To have critical thinking using logic and reason, you must remove god from the system." - Can I get a hallelujah?  :)

People who commit these types of crimes IMO are not redeemable people.  I don't think that about everyone who goes to jail deserves this kind of punishment, even for murder,  this was a senseless brutal triple murder.  Sometimes, for example if someone is trying to kill you first and you end up killing them instead, that would be a redeemable person because they really would not have any intention of ever killing again. 

I hate to point this out to you but you are comparing Murder to Self-defense, two very different things. Not a good analogy at all, sorry.

it is not an analogy, I am not comparing it I clearly stated that it was different.

@ Sarah, I must be missing something, you wrote this:

Sometimes, for example if someone is trying to kill you first and you end up killing them instead, that would be a redeemable person because they really would not have any intention of ever killing again.

You seem to be referring to the person who defended himself/herself, is that correct? If so then:

Murder is a crime which results in a death.

Self-defense is not a crime if it results in a death.

They are very different acts one criminal one not, I don't quit understand what you're attempting to say (puzzled).

Actually, you are clearly implying that someone who exercises self defense is committing a crime by stating that they can be "redeemable" because they wouldn't "have any intention of ever killing again", which is ridiculous.  First, just because I have defended myself once with deadly force, does not, in any way suggest that I won't do it again. Second, I would never accept that I need "redemption" just because I was forced to defend myself and my family with deadly force.  I have no problem at all taking another person's life in the act of self defense and have no respect whatsoever for people who don't have the courage to defend themselves and their loved ones, yet expect others to puck up the slack.

My position is that we should NEVER, EVER - under ANY circumstances - unnecessarily take the life of another human being (and I personally extend that to a number of other species).

And furthermore, I would argue that it inexcusable to condemn someone to incarceration without also taking that time to try to help them become a better person during that incarceration (psychotherapy & education for example, they can decline it but it should be made available and I think some form of degree should be a requirement for exiting prison for violent offenders).  NO PERSON should be subjected to abuse (period, no beatings nor rape -- I'm disgusted by people who get enjoyment out of the idea that someone will be raped in prison) or unnecessary force during incarceration either.  I'll grant that sometimes force is necessary to restrain someone to prevent them from harming others (or sometimes even themselves) and that sometimes injuries are going to happen, but they should be accidents.  Purposefully harming someone who is powerless to prevent it is just inexcusable barbarism - it doesn't make you a good person if you're doing it out of a false sense of retribution.

That said, if ANYONE wishes to calmly and rationally decide to end their life I think they should be given that option.  This does NOT include people who are acting irrationally, nor does it include children for the same reasons that such persons cannot enter into legally binding agreements.

It comes down to bodily autotomy - if there is but one thing a person should retain control of (assuming they are in possession of the faculty of reason - otherwise someone else must be their proxy, acting in their best interest), it is the ultimate disposition of their own body (and that includes ones mind).

The 'worst' thing I can imagine from *my* 'atheistic' perspective is ceasing to exist because I believe this time, right now, is the ONLY time the *I* that is *me* has a chance to exist and experience life -- and I feel a sense of duty to try to extend to others a place where they can also experience what life has to offer, even if they have been extremely bad people themselves.  And while I appreciate my life very deeply, I don't fear death and on three occasions in my life, I believed that it was very near and it hasn't changed my perspective (the first time as a child falling from a high cliff, the second as an adolescent on LSD [also one of the peak joyous experiences of my life, second only to the birth of my son], and the most recent was a motorcycle accident).  In that most recent case I had this sense of having failed my loved ones in that I wouldn't be able to do all the things I had intended for them.

We currently lack the technology to bring people back on the occasions when our certainty has failed us (as it has many times with the death penalty).  Ask me again if that changes.

I do believe in corrective punishment (I do NOT believe in spanking or hitting children, ever, for any reason - nor the psychological damage constantly screaming at them or belittling them does) but I think that our system of incarceration is clearly not working.  We need to work on improving the lives of those in need in our society and when that fails them we need to work on assisting them in getting back to be a productive member of society.  What we do TODAY however is ensure that once a criminal (and we've cleverly ensured that tens of millions of previously non-violent minority 'drug' users will be labeled as such and become violent criminals) you cannot get housing assistance, food, education, or a job -- which has to be among the STUPIDEST things any society has ever undertaken and the results speak for themselves.

What I think we should be doing is making them get an education, making them work at specific jobs, and getting them to a place where they CAN care for themselves and their families (if that applies).

But this is a by-product of a hate-filled society that feels that, at all costs (and it does cost them dearly) we must be 'tough on crime' - which really means we're prepared to abuse the heck out of criminals while ignoring the massive war crimes our government is committing in places like Iraq.  But hey, a few tens of thousands of dead, innocent Iraqi's isn't our problem, right.  We have three people who were murdered to deal with!   Who is really the greater criminal - the one who murders three people because they really cannot control themselves or the systematic and purposeful murder of tens of thousands in a carefully thought out and legally defined fashion?  One is surely easier to point the finger at, because it doesn't point back to ourselves.

In the end it comes down to love, empathy, and compassion.


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