The death penalty process in the United States can easily be characterized as a social problem because it is severely flawed. Too often, it is applied in an unfair and unjust manner against people largely dependent on how much money they have, the skill of their attorneys, race of the victim, and where the crime took place. This, in itself, violates the constitutional guarantee of equal protection.
Creating an even bigger social problem within the country is the fact that the death penalty denies the due process of law as its imposition is often arbitrary and always irreversible. The finality of it all forever deprives an individual of the opportunity to benefit from new evidence or new laws that may come to light after the trial and might warrant the reversal of a conviction, or, in the very least, the setting aside of a death sentence. The issue that I feel needs more attention is the fact that the death penalty leaves the door open for the chance that an innocent person could be executed.
Another reason why the entire process of capital punishment is wrong is that execution is a violent public spectacle of official homicide, and something that spectacle appears to endorse killing to solve social problems. This is the worst possible example to set for citizens, and especially children. The effects on youngsters can be traumatizing but can also be influential for all the wrong reasons, of course. Young people can see an execution on television, for instance, and if they are led to believe that this is the proper way to obtain justice, their young, impressionable minds can lead them to taking matters into their own hands should they ever find themselves in a situation where they feel like they’ve been wronged.
Those in power can try to justify their actions when it comes to capital punishment by talking about the supposed benefits that such killing would bring the rest of society, but they are still sending the message out there that the answer to violence is more violence.
Stacy Mallicoat, professor of criminal justice at the University of California, likes to focus her capital punishment class on this question: “To kill or not to kill?” She spoke on the matter during an interview conducted several years ago when she worked as an assistant professor.
“Philosophically, you have to ask yourself, ‘Do I want to kill others to prove killing is wrong? What is the purpose?’ If it is to deter crime, then that’s not a valid argument.”
More so, it is a known fact that the cost of the death penalty is extraordinary. The statistics tell us that California has spent more than $4 billion administering the death penalty since 1978, or more than $300 million per person for each of the 13 people who have been executed since the death penalty was reinstated. Conversely, it costs approximately $200,000 to $300,000 to convict and sentence an individual to life without the possibility of parole.
An obvious, although far from simple, solution to the problem is to make a life sentence without parole the worst possible punishment a criminal could receive and to get rid of the death penalty altogether. A life sentence has the same deterrent effect of the death penalty: criminals remain off the streets for the rest of their lives.
The money saved could be spent on ways to improve the criminal justice system such as increasing public safety or providing resources to help prevent wrongful convictions. Just as important, the money saved could help create new jobs and opportunities for those impoverished to live more productive and prosperous lives.
Also, the money saved by eliminating the death penalty could go towards creating outreach programs to help people better understand social problems such as discrimination against others based on race, wealth, religion, etc. Programs like that, which would bring awareness to such issues, could come in handy if someone is put on trial and the jury is made up of people, who up until that point, were taught to think in a stereotypical way.
Bringing awareness to real social problems could lead to people being more open-minded in the short-term, and in the long-term, could help prevent an innocent person from being executed.
[Featured Image by Scott Eisen/Getty Images]