Tuesday, September 19, 2006


Will We Ever Learn

I've done two fairly long call-in talk radio interviews this morning, one of WNOX and one on WGNS, and so many of the same points came up from callers, and even from hosts, that I just had to talk about them. Because it is the same old arguments of deterrence, cost, and the Bible that come up over and over again. I guess people really think that the death penalty deters murder, saves tax-payer money, and is sanctioned by the Bible. So here we go, for the record:

  • No respectable study has found the death penalty to deter murder to any extent greater than life without parole does. In fact, states without the death penalty have lower murder rates (by a large margin) than state with the death penalty. When the Supreme Court struck down the death penalty in 1972 we didn't see an increase in murder rates across the country, and when execution resumed in 1977 we didn't see murder rates drop. Additionally, in Tennessee, the only possible sentences for capital murder are death, life without the possibility, or a life sentence with a minimum of 51 years before parole eligibility. Eliminating the death penalty will not put people convicted of murder back out on the streets.
  • Systems with the death penalty have consistently been found to cost far more than systems with LWOP as the most severe sentence. The majority of the extra costs are found in the initial trial, which has to include a whole separate phase for sentencing in capital cases. New Jersey just did a study of their capital punishment system and found that they had spent $253,000,000 above and beyond the cost of LWOP on it. And here's the kicker, NJ has only 10 people on death row and has never executed anyone. Imagine what we've spent on a death row of 102 and two executions.
  • And finally, yes, there are a few isolated passages of the Bible that seem to support capital punishment, but they support it not only for murder but also for adultery, planting different crops side by side, working on the Sabbath, disobeying your parents, and drunkenness. Additionally the Book of Deuteronomy states that it is a sin to execute without two eye witnesses giving exactly matching testimony. Not many of our death sentences would meet that standard. Finally, the overall message of the Bible and particularly of Jesus, is one of love, compassion, and forgiveness, a message that is incompatible with the vengeful killing of the death penalty.

Now a lot of you probably already knew that, but, given the number of times I've heard those arguments advanced just this morning, I decided that I had to get the answers out in the open again. So the next time some one raises one of those arguments, just let them have it (rhetorically) with some of the facts above. Because the great thing about working for abolition is that all of the facts are with us!

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