The process for administering the death penalty in the United States is broken beyond repair, and it is time to choose a more effective and moral alternative. California voters will have the opportunity to do this on election day.
Although our government has a fundamental responsibility to protect its citizens, there is little evidence that the death penalty acts as a strong deterrent to murder and other violent crimes. One recent study found that 88% of the nation's leading criminologists believe that swift and certain punishment is the best deterrent. The death penalty is neither swift nor certain, with the appeals process in California lasting an average of 25 years. Most inmates who are sentenced to death instead die of old age.
Some devout Christians, particularly Protestants, are fervent advocates of the death penalty. This view contradicts the teachings of Jesus Christ and misinterprets Holy Scripture, with its numerous examples of mercy. We should remember how God forgave Cain, who killed Abel. He also forgave the adulterer King David, who had Bathsheba's husband killed. Jesus forgave an adulterous woman sentenced to be stoned to death and explained away the "eye for an eye" scripture. The Catholic Church has officially condemned the death penalty, as have the United Methodist Church, the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church USA, Reform Judaism and many other religious denominations .
Perhaps the strongest argument against the death penalty, though, is its extreme bias against the poor, minorities and those with diminished mental capacity. Although homicide victims are six times more likely to be black rather than white, 77% of death penalty cases involve white victims. It is hard to imagine a rich white person going to the death chamber after being defended by expensive lawyers. We shouldn't allow a system to continue that places a higher value on the lives of white Americans.
Californians have the opportunity to replace this wasteful, immoral and discriminatory system with a mandatory sentence of life without the possibility of parole. I urge them to vote yes on Proposition 34.
The LA Times also published the OpEd, "No on Prop. 34: Let the death penalty live," by retired prosecutor and judge, James A. Ardaiz.
My entire professional life has been entwined with the death penalty. As a prosecutor, I asked for the death penalty. As a judge, I imposed it. As a citizen, I will vote next month to retain it as a punishment option in California.
I have often encountered the argument that the death penalty is not a deterrent because it did not deter someone from carrying out a particular murder. But the actual issue is a larger one: Would there have been more murders in California without its deterrent effect? That's a hard question to answer with certainty, of course, but there has been considerable research to suggest the death penalty is a significant deterrent.
"Former executioners share their misgivings about death penalty," is reported by Maura Dolan, in the news section of the LA Times.
Ron McAndrew, a former prison warden, said he began to have doubts about the death penalty after seeing flames dance from the head of an inmate strapped into Florida's electric chair.
"There was no way I could stop the execution," said McAndrew, who was in charge of the electrocution that night in 1997. Smoke and a putrid odor filled the death chamber as the witnesses outside watched, agape. "I had to let it go on for 11 minutes."
McAndrew, 74, was one of two former executioners who came to California this week to tell tales from the death chamber during a four-day tour of some of the state's most conservative communities: Riverside, Bakersfield and Fresno.
Jerry Givens, 59, who worked on Virginia's execution team, told audiences he presided over 62 executions — 25 electrocutions and 37 lethal injections — out of duty and a strong belief in the death penalty.
He said his misgivings about execution began when former Virginia death row inmate Earl Washington Jr. was exonerated. Givens had come within two weeks of executing Washington. "It would have been with me for the rest of my life," he said.
"Twitter Battleground: The Fight to End the Death Penalty on Twitter," by Jane Susskind.
The Yes on 34 campaign has embraced a heavy social media strategy, using Twitter to interact, engage, and inform California Voters from the account @SAFECalifornia. The 1,000+ following is showcased frequently on the page with retweets and responses coming from the Yes of 34 manager. The account also taps into their audience by thanking supporters for their part in ending the death penalty, sharing videos and images, and tweeting out polls and statistics.
On the other side, the No on 34 campaign has yet to create an active Twitter account, ignoring the importance of an online strategy in an era where more than 80% of eligible voters are online. While tweeting frequently, the VoteNO34 campaign has few interactions with followers. The account has under 100 followers.
The Nation publishes, "Life Without Parole: A Different Death Penalty," commentary by University of Houston Law Center Professor David R. Dow.
The justifications given by death penalty opponents who have embraced life without parole reveal the extent to which abolitionists have surrendered the moral basis of their position. It used to be that abolitionists argued that most people who commit bad acts can change and that the cruelest punishment one can inflict is to rob a human being of hope. But this concept—I hesitate to use the word “rehabilitation”—has seeped out of the criminal justice system over the past forty years. Prisons are now designed almost entirely for security in mind and not at all for socialization. Sentences have gotten steadily longer. And while states are turning away from the death penalty, they are replacing it with a different kind of death sentence. Sending a prisoner to die behind bars with no hope of release is a sentence that denies the possibility of redemption every bit as much as strapping a murderer to the gurney and filling him with poison.
Opponents of capital punishment often point out that the United States is the only developed Western country still executing prisoners, a comparison meant to shame us for being aligned with such human rights–violating countries as Iran, China and North Korea. It’s not a bad argument, but exactly the same could be said about life without parole. Our neighbors to the south don’t have it. Almost all of Europe rejects it. Even China and Pakistan, hardly exemplars of progressive criminal justice policy, allow prisoners serving life sentences to come up for parole after twenty-five years. Meanwhile, the United States imprisons wrongdoers for sentences that are five to seven times longer than sentences for comparable offenses in, say, Germany. Yet the recidivism rate in Germany is roughly 25 percent lower than ours.
Earlier coverge of Prop. 34, the SAFE California ballot initiative, begins at the link; also available, more on Prop. 34 at SAFE Caliornia.