Last week the federal government executed three inmates. These marked the first federal executions in 17 years. The long lapse in executions may make this seem like a non-issue to some people but all executions are inherently wrong.
The Attorney General’s directive makes federal executions a new priority for the Department of Justice, which means there are likely more to come. Luckily, there’s a bill that has been introduced in the House of Representatives that can put an end to this practice at the federal level. In this article, I will highlight the moral, fiscal, and practical reasons to oppose capital punishment.
From a small-government stance, the death penalty is about as bad as it gets. There is no way the government can be more intrusive than to take someone’s life. By allowing the government to take someone’s life, we are giving it a form of ultimate power. Far too much power to give to the state. The government’s role in criminal justice should be to protect the populace, not to seek an eye for an eye. When a convicted criminal is in imprisoned, they are no longer a threat to the public. There is no additional value or an increased measure of safety by going even further and taking their life.
Not only is capital punishment a pointless gift of power to the state, but it also comes with the very real likelihood that someone innocent could be executed. A 2014 study estimated that at least 4% of people on death row are innocent. It is immoral to continue a practice that we know kills innocent people.
This argument is not to say that it is wrong to want some form of retribution or that murderers do not deserve punishment. The problem with seeking execution as a form of punishment is that allowing the government to decide who lives and who dies, outside of protecting someone from an immediate threat, can open up a Pandora’s box of government authority that can lead to a slippery slope of abuse.
We also must remember that the irreversible nature of capital punishment means we cannot get a life back if a wrongfully accused person is executed. A wrongfully convicted person’s right to life outweighs another person’s desire for retribution. Until we have a system that can guarantee that every convicted person is without a doubt guilty, the death penalty will not be a moral option.
One of the main arguments people make for supporting capital punishment is the fact that they don’t want to pay to feed and house convicted criminals for the rest of their natural lives. They believe that capital punishment is saving them money. This idea is wrong. It is far more expensive to put someone on death row than it is to sentence them to life in prison. The trials alone can cost hundreds of thousands more than a life sentence trial due to the increased man-hours for both prosecutors and public defenders. Then there is the cost of appeals and extra housing costs for death row inmates. A 2016 report by Susquehanna University found that on average a death penalty inmate costs $1.12 million more than a general population inmate. The fiscal argument in support of capital punishment falls flat on its face.
Not only is the death penalty immoral and expensive, but it is also inefficient as a deterrent. There is no evidence that the threat of execution deters violent crime. Evidence suggests that it has no effect on violent crime. A 2008 poll found that over 88% of criminologists do not believe the death penalty is a deterrent. Additionally, a 2010 report by Dartmouth University concluded that capital punishment does not lower homicide rates. If executions do nothing to reduce homicides, there is no real reason to continue them.
There is no moral, fiscal, or public safety argument for the death penalty. One cannot support concepts like limited government and fiscal responsibility while supporting capital punishment. Everyone that believes in these concepts should write to their representative and tell them to cosponsor H.R. 4052. An easy to use tool that helps you craft a letter can be found here.
Rob Faust holds a Bachelor of Science in criminal justice, served four years in the United States Air Force, and has worked as a defense contractor in the greater Washington D.C. area for eleven years. This experience and education motivate him to write about criminal justice and national defense policies.