It really is time for the death penalty to go

Wired has an article up on America’s long history of botched executions.

Two weeks ago, things went horribly wrong with the execution of Clayton D. Lockett, a 38-year old Oklahoma man convicted of shooting a young woman and burying her alive. After executioners initiated what was meant to be a lethal injection, Lockett began writhing and tried to rise from the table; he died of an apparent heart attack 43 minutes after the procedure began. But we should not be surprised.

For his new book, Gruesome Spectacles: Botched Executions and America’s Death Penalty, Austin Sarat, a professor of jurisprudence and political science at Amherst College researched the history of botched executions in the United States. And there have been plenty.

via America’s Long and Gruesome History of Botched Executions | Science | WIRED.

I suspect I’m saying this to the choir, particularly since many of my readers are outside of the US, but it’s really time to kill the death penalty (pun fully intended).  Increasingly, no one wants anything to do with it.  The AMA (American Medical Association) doesn’t want medical personnel involved with it, drug companies don’t want to sell their drugs for use in it, and states are using it less and less.

Indeed, the death penalty is so rare now, that any supposed deterrent on crime is long since gone.  (And that deterrence was always questionable anyway.)  We don’t use the death penalty pervasively because it’s easy to screw up and wrongly convict someone, and death is the one sentence that can’t ever be corrected, even partially, once it’s been wrongfully imposed.  When the death penalty is carried out, it’s often decades after the crime was committed.

Even if the motive for keeping it is retribution, it’s always seemed odd to me that a humane execution (when it can be pulled off) was considered a greater penalty than living the rest of your life in a maximum security prison.  Indeed, when juries are informed that they have the option of sentencing a convict to life in prison with no possibility of parole, they almost always take that option instead of the death penalty.

By any measure, the death penalty isn’t working anymore.  The only thing it does at this point is provide a money pit for already stretched judicial systems.  I’ve read of municipalities shunning the death penalty on particular cases primarily because they couldn’t afford it, much to the frustration of prosecuters.

Increasingly, the US is becoming an isolated hold out on this.  Europe abolished it decades ago, and the trend worldwide is toward abolition.  The countries that keep it tend to be repressive regimes; not exactly company we want to be lumped in with.

Are there people who deserve death?  Probably, but history has shown that our ability to determine that is flawed, at best.  And we can’t give life back once we’ve taken it.  For that reason alone, the death penalty should go.  When combined with the other issues, morally, financially, pragmatically, the death sentence no longer makes sense.  It’s time to throw the death penalty on the scrap heap of history, alongside flogging, slavery, human sacrifice, and many of the other practices we long ago concluded were barbaric.

4 thoughts on “It really is time for the death penalty to go

  1. Great points, I am in full agreement with you. One way I’ve been thinking of the death penalty recently is that it is a position that we must be argued to, it is not a default position for justice, even if it is rooted in history. This sort of metaphysical/epistemological argument is used against the skeptic frequently; obviously the onus is on the solipsist to provide good reason to doubt the existence of the external world — it is absurd to think that realists must prove what is obvious to a skeptic. Insofar as we are in the business of punishing people that kill others, it seems our base position is that it is wrong to kill, so we really need to be argued to the conclusion that we should kill people who kill people, when our base position only implies that we should reform people who are killers, because it is wrong to kill. As you point to above, most of the classic arguments for capital punishment are unconvincing, so it seems we should stick to the default position of not killing other people, and thus not execute people. If those who oppose the death penalty want to offer arguments against the death penalty then they may, I myself will continue to do so, but the point is that we should not have to.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s an excellent point. Unfortunately, the onus will always be on those arguing for change. It reminds me of animal rights. If you step back and think about it, it seems like anyone against animal rights should have to be the ones arguing for their stance, but our treatment of animals has such a deep and pervasive history that it is taking generations of activism to change people’s attitudes.


  2. I agree with you 100%. I know many people who really want to hold on to the death penalty because they feel some heinous criminals really deserve it, but when they really look at what’s involved even they have to agree this system isn’t working.

    Liked by 1 person

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