The end of the end
Steve Chapman at Reason.com sees the death penalty is in decline and asks if abolition is possible.
The popular impulse to put people to death is just not what it used to be.
Executions have fallen by half since 1999. The number of new death sentences is about one-third what it was at the 1996 peak. Even in Texas, long the leading practitioner, death sentences are off by 80 percent. Several states that retain capital punishment have not administered a single lethal injection in the past five years.
The exoneration of 138 death row inmates has weakened public support for the ultimate sanction. In a recent Gallup poll, 64 percent of Americans endorsed it, down from 80 percent in 1994, while opposition has nearly doubled.
A survey commissioned by the Death Penalty Information Center found that 61 percent prefer that murderers get some sort of life sentence instead. As a budget priority, the death penalty was ranked seventh out of seven issues.
Did someone mention budgets? They are no friend of an option that requires expensive trials, costly appeals, and pricey incarceration arrangements. Franklin Zimring, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, says capital punishment has become “an extreme luxury item.”
Even the Neiman Marcus Christmas catalog, which this year offers a charm bracelet for $248,000, has nothing to compare. Maryland has spent $186 million on capital cases over the past 30 years—which comes to $37 million per execution.
As I have pointed out before, the death penalty does not have a deterrent effect on those crimes that truly “deserve” the death penalty, while it always has the possibility (if not the probability) of executing the innocent. If you support the death penalty, you must be willing to accept that innocent people will be executed.
So if the death penalty has no purpose, and can only result in greater harm, then why continue to maintain it?
When you add in the factors of cost and the difficulty in causing death that is not cruel and unusual punishment, the case for abolition is overwhelming.