Tags: death | deterrent | exonerated | penalty

Trump Stuck in '80s 'Tough on Crime' and That Executions Work

president trump combatting violent crime operation legend

U.S. President Donald Trump arrives for an event about 'Operation Legend: Combating Violent Crime in American Cities' in the East Room of the White House July 22, 2020 in Washington, D.C. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

By Wednesday, 12 August 2020 02:53 PM Current | Bio | Archive

For the first time in 17 years, the country has begun carrying out executions at the federal level. A lot has changed during that time.

Across the nation, new death sentences have plummeted more than 60%, as prosecutors seek and juries opt for — different sentences.

Twenty-two states have ended the death penalty all together, and three more have officially halted all executions.

And a majority of Americans now say they prefer a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Not only that.

Conservatives are leading the death penalty repeal movement across the country.

In the past 18 months alone, more than 75 Republicans sponsored bills to repeal the death penalty across 13 states.

For two years in a row, a state has passed such legislation with significant conservative support, and top right-wing names — from George Will to Michelle Malkin — have come out against the penalty.

So, what gives?

How is the Trump administration so far out of step with the public on this one?

And why, at the height of a global pandemic and civil unrest (in large part due to problems in our justice system), do they think now is the right time to resume killing American citizens?

Truth be told, Trump has always been behind the times on this policy — even stating during his campaign days that he would like to see the penalty expanded and applied to nonviolent offenders like drug dealers.

While the majority of the western world has moved on from this antiquated and ineffective system (the U.S. is the only western country where it remains legal), our country continues to hang onto this expensive relic that amounts to little more than security theater.

And make no mistake, it is security theater.

The death penalty is not a deterrent.

The debate has been settled on that point for years.

In fact, regions that abandon it continue to see their crime rates hold steady or even decrease, while the few that still use it consistently see higher rates of violence.

There’s a pretty obvious reason for these statistics. The death penalty is extraordinarily expensive, costing as much as 10 times more than its alternatives.

Counties that waste that kind of money on a penalty that fails to deter crime create tremendous vacuums inside their justice system.

That’s money and resources not being spent on solving more crimes, and it’s money not being spent on programs proven to actually prevent violence.

We know that the most effective deterrent to criminality is the belief that one will be apprehended.

Yet, under the current system, solvency rates for crimes are abysmal, with homicides hovering around 60% and other offenses falling far short of even that measly number.

Given these factors, there’s an easy argument to be made that the death penalty actually makes us less safe.

This is information that is readily available, if you’re looking for it. But, myths around the death penalty’s effectiveness are pervasive.

Many people still genuinely believe that capital punishment is a deterrent, that it saves taxpayer dollars, and that victims’ families want it.

Even over the past month, victims' family members (who happen to be supporters of Trump) have spoken out to the contrary and implored the administration not to carry out the executions. So we return to the original question — why are they doing this?

Increasingly, I’m asked to guess at the motivations for these actions.

The juxtaposition of an administration resuming executions shortly after touting and passing one of the largest criminal justice reform bills in history is jarring.

How can one look at the system, recognize the frequency of wrongful convictions, the arbitrariness in sentencing, and the inherent bias involved with doling out terms and still come away thinking this system should have the power of life and death?

It isn’t a new juxtaposition. Shortly after issuing clemency to a first-time, nonviolent offender, Alice Johnson, who was incarcerated for her participation in drug trafficking, Trump actually called for an expansion of the death penalty for people with similar crimes to Johnson.

It seems Trump is stuck in the 1980’s when people genuinely believed "tough on crime" policies like the death penalty resulted in safer communities and less violence.

I think he actually thinks the death penalty works, and that by carrying out these executions the country will return to law and order.

It is understandable to have once been misinformed about the realities of the death penalty.

I count myself in that club. It is not excusable, however, to ignore the four decades worth of data we now have, proving how utterly wrong our former notions on crime prevention really were.

They say an old dog can’t learn new tricks.

In the 1990’s, Trump was taking out full page ads advocating for the death penalty for five young black teenagers that we now know were innocent of the crime for which they were accused.

Rather than learn from that experience and proceed with more caution and humility, Trump has instead doubled down in his support for a system that has seen one person exonerated for every nine executions.

His motivations for carrying out executions might be misinformed, but that doesn’t make them excusable.

Hannah Cox is the National Manager of Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty. Hannah was previously Director of Outreach for the Beacon Center of Tennessee, a free-market think tank. Prior to that, she was Director of Development for the Tennessee Firearms Association and a policy advocate for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Read Hannah Cox's Reports — More Here.

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Trump has instead doubled down in his support for a system that has seen one person exonerated for every nine executions. His motivations for carrying out executions might be misinformed, but that doesn’t make them excusable.
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Wednesday, 12 August 2020 02:53 PM
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