Saturday, January 9, 2016


In the United States, because of state and federal constitutional requirements, it costs a whole lot more to seek and apply the death penalty than to pursue a life sentence. “Overall, according to [Richard C. Dieter of the non-partisan Death Penalty Information Center], the studies have uniformly and conservatively shown that a death-penalty trial costs $1 million more than one in which prosecutors seek life without parole. That expense is being reexamined in the current budget crisis, with some state legislators advocating a moratorium on death-penalty trials until the economy improves.
“An Urban Institute study of Maryland's experience with the death penalty found that a single death-penalty trial cost $1.9 million more than a non-death-penalty trial. Since 1978, the cost to taxpayers for the five executions the state carried out was $37.2 million dollars — each.
“Since 1983, taxpayers in New Jersey have paid $253 million more for death penalty trials than they would have paid for trials not seeking execution — but the Garden State has yet to execute a single convict. Of the 197 capital cases tried in New Jersey, there have been 60 death sentences, the report said, and 50 of the those convictions were overturned. There currently are 10 men on the state's death row.
“A recent Duke University study of North Carolina's death penalty costs found that the state could save $11 million a year by substituting life in prison for the death penalty. An earlier Duke study found that the state spent $2.1 million more on a death penalty case than on one seeking a life sentence.
“The Tennessee Comptroller of the Currency recently estimated that death penalty trials cost an average of 48 percent more than trials in which prosecutors sought life sentences.” FoxNews.Com, March 27, 2010. In additional to trial costs, experts estimate that the average additional cost-per-annum to house those on death row is $90 thousand. Since death row inmates can be kept for well over a decade, adding in the cost of the execution, there is another seven plus figure cost associated with convicting and executing an inmate. Hundreds of inmates sit on California’s death row, for example, and most will probably never be executed by the state.
But that’s the United States, and it is a pretty callous way to look at capital punishment. Forget about those who turn out to be innocent or those where the execution is itself botched and just look at the process of execution itself. Barbaric? Worse? Hypocritical? It’s clearly not a deterrent, if statistics are considered. So exactly what is the benefit to society? As the West gravitates away from capital punishment, executions are hardly disappearing. “All told, in 2014, at least 2,466 people were sentenced to death — a 28 percent increase from 2013, according to an annual tally by Amnesty International.
“Among the leading executioners in the world are the archrivals of the Middle East, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Indeed, it was Saudi Arabia’s execution of a Shiite cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, on [January 2nd] that led to an unraveling of diplomatic ties between the two nations and raised apprehensions of a widening sectarian crisis in the region.
China leads the world in executions, according to human rights groups, although no recent figures are available because death sentences are a state secret. The United States and Iraq round out the list of the top five countries that resort to capital punishment.
“They are in a minority of nations. A total of 105 countries have abolished the death penalty, with Suriname and Mongolia the latest to do so. According to the United Nations, 60 other countries allow for the death penalty but have not carried it out in a decade, making them what the United Nations calls ‘de facto abolitionists.’… Only 28 countries have retained capital punishment on their books and used it in the last 10 years.” New York Times, January 4th. And that measurement was before ISIS executions are added to the mix. Countries that execute are down but executions are up? Who is doing the killing? Besides the United States?
“Iran has been even more ardent in using the death penalty, executing at least 289 people in 2014, including for drug offenses, according to the Amnesty International report. Among the most recent executions in Iran was that of a woman convicted of killing her husband, whom she was forced to marry at 16.
“Some countries have returned to using capital punishment after suspending the practice for many years. Jordan and Pakistan resumed executions late in 2014, mostly in terrorism cases. Pakistan has put to death an estimated 300 people since then.
“That year, Egypt, on more than one occasion, sentenced several hundred citizens to death, many of them supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood who had participated in violent political protests in which a police officer was killed.
“The United Nations says China carries out the largest number of executions, estimating that 6,687 people were put to death there from 1999 to 2003.
“While the United States is one of the top five executioners, there has been an effort among state governments to limit the use of the death penalty (the federal government still uses it, though rarely). At least 12 states have a moratorium or an official hold on the use of the death penalty, and in several others, courts are considering challenges to execution by lethal injection, according to the Death Penalty Information Center… Twenty-eight people were executed in the United States last year, continuing a six-year decline.” NY Times.
So the “eye for an eye” concept would suggest that the death penalty is a part of our Judeo-Christian ethos, although the kindness and charitable elements in the New Testament might suggest otherwise. But then, how do you feel when we find out someone on death row was wrongfully convicted? After they have been executed? Worth it for the truly guilty? Is the legal system really “fair and balanced,” particularly for those unable to afford good lawyers? Is it worth the extra money? Crass, huh? How do you feel about the death penalty?
I’m Peter Dekom, and we should never stop asking ourselves “why.”

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