Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Some states may get rid of executions to save money

This could be another edition of "Signs that the economy is bad" here at The Itinerant Librarian, but this topic is a bit more serious than the usual fare for my semi-regular feature here. I came across this story reporting that "US States May Axe Executions to Cut Costs." One of the folks leaving a comment on that story was glad that "that none of the politicians are arguing that they should just cut the 'red tape' that allows for appeals and lawyers." Well, I will argue it.

Comedian Ron White has said of Texas, "other states are trying to abolish the death penalty. My state's putting in an express lane." I don't necessarily want to make light of the issue, but let's be honest. A big reason the death penalty does not work is that it takes years to execute someone. You should indeed have an express lane to execute people. And in the interest of disclosure, while I say you should not use the death penalty lightly, there are some crimes that are just so heinous, so monstrous, so dehumanizing, that nothing less than the death penalty will do. The problem is society chooses to keep the death row people behind bars so they can do appeal after appeal after appeal for decades on end. That has to stop. Set a limit on their appeal, and once they are exhausted, so be it.

The article goes on about some of the costs of an execution. For instance:

  • "On top of a complex and lengthy process, appeals can last years and the prisoners are often represented by lawyers paid by the state." So, not only do the condemned get appeals that seem unlimited in some case, but the state has to pay their lawyers too. Big cost right there.
  • "Guarding death rows and death chambers are also costly items on a state's budget." This is pretty evident. The longer you keep them in jail, the higher the costs. After all, it is not just guarding them. As long as they are in jail, they get their three squares a day and full medical care as well as a roof over their head. More costs.
Now, I do not think the death penalty as it currently works is perfect. The idea that someone innocent could get executed is pretty abhorrent. Having said that, once their guilt is determined beyond whatever legal requirement, it's high time to apply the punishment.

On the other hand, you could just imprison those folks for life, and life would mean exactly that. They die behind prison walls without ever having the chance to see the outside world at all. Anyone remember the scene in Shawshank Redemption where they are cleaning the graves of the prisoners? My point exactly. Overall, I do find it interesting that all it takes is an economic downturn and suddenly states want to look over the issue of executions, an issue they pretty much ignore or take for granted, or in the case of Texas at least, they seem to relish. I say if you have it in the books, stop procrastinating and use it. Otherwise, get rid of it and imprison those who would have gone on death row for life. Just keep in mind your costs are not necessarily going to go down.

You still have to build more prisons if you are going to keep more people in prisons. Then you have to find places to build your new prisons. Americans are notorious for their NIMBY attitude. So good luck with building more prisons. Overall, what they do not tell you in the article is the other costs of keeping people in prison long term and increasing the numbers of said prisoners over time.

Just a thought.

A hat tip to Common Dreams.

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