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The Death Penalty Is Soft on Crime

The Death Penalty Is Soft on Crime
(Andrey Popov/Dreamstime.com)

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Thursday, 16 January 2020 04:20 PM Current | Bio | Archive

It’s time to set the record straight about something: the death penalty is soft on crime.

Capital punishment wastes millions of dollars per year while providing no deterrent effect. That’s money we’re not spending on programs that actually could work to deter violence, and it’s money we’re not spending on solving more crimes. That means the death penalty is a huge opportunity cost that actually makes us less safe and contributes to the measly average homicide clearance rate of only 51 percent.

The facts are irrefutable. More than a dozen states have found that death penalty cases are up to 10 times more expensive than comparable non-death penalty cases, and it’s not because the process takes too long.

Seventy percent of the costs come from the trial alone, meaning that even when a jury declines to give a new death sentence, taxpayers still pay a lot more money for the trials. And increasingly, juries are declining these sentences — they’re down 60 percent since 2000.

The move away from death sentences directly coincides with the implementation of life without parole statues in most states. When people are given an option other than death, they take it.

But those stats don’t stop aggressive prosecutors from pursuing these cases and wasting these resources. In Texas, district attorneys have pursued death penalty cases so aggressively they’ve even led to higher property taxes. In Nebraska taxpayers in one county have also just received a tax increase to cover the costs of a death penalty case gone bad. But will that stop the next district attorney from pursuing capital charges? Probably not.

For far too many, the death penalty provides an opportunity to talk tough without actually having to implement meaningful change. Rather than do the difficult work of violence disruption and harm reduction, initiatives that actually lead to less violence in the first place, a number of people prefer to virtue signal after the crime has occurred.

Only about 2 percent of all U.S. counties account for the majority of death penalty cases. And several of those counties are in states that have the death penalty on the books but haven’t had an execution in more than 10 years. The death penalty is always wasteful as it, again, provides no deterrent effect. But in states that don’t even carry out executions, it’s money straight down the drain.

Over a third of the 25 states that currently have the death penalty have not used it in a decade or more. That includes Colorado, a state that has carried out only one execution since reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976. Yet prosecutors continue to waste taxpayer dollars with impunity. One district attorney’s office spent $1.6 million — that Colorado taxpayers ultimately funded — for a death penalty case that the victim’s family members adamantly didn’t want (and that the jury didn’t end up going for).

Even just having the death penalty on the books wastes millions of dollars and makes states less safe. That’s due to the fact that money can still be wasted on capital cases, and due to the fact that capital cases place a tremendous burden on the entire legal system. The possibility of a death penalty case means prosecutors and public defenders have to jump through numerous certification hoops to maintain their ability to represent a client facing charges. It also means the state will continue to waste money defending its death penalty statute in the courts and looking for new execution protocols. All costly uses of time and money that do nothing to make states safer.

In fact, we continue to see states that maintain the death penalty experience higher rates of violent crime, which makes sense when they’re wasting so much money on a program that simply doesn’t work.

In the United States, we’re really bad at solving crime. As mentioned, the country has a 51 percent average homicide clearance rate, meaning almost half of all homicide victims get no answers, no one is held accountable, and people who commit violence remain at large. For other violent crimes, the solvency rate is even lower. Two-thirds of reported rape cases are never cleared.

How anyone can think the death penalty is an effective response to violence given those facts is beyond me. In reality, the death penalty is a public policy based entirely on emotion — it gives people the feeling of doing something in the face of tragedy but, in reality, ends up harming the very people it is supposed to help. And while emotions can and should be expected in the face of violence, they are not what we should use to set public policy.

As Aristotle famously said, “the law is reason free from passion.” The death penalty should certainly be no exception from that. Rather, policies should be determined by their adherence to the constitution, principles of liberty, their effectiveness, and their cost. In all of those categories the death penalty fails.

Several low-usage states are considering repealing their death penalty laws this year and should bare these facts in mind. For lawmakers actually interested in improving public safety outcomes, the choice is obvious.

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. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.

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It’s time to set the record straight about something: the death penalty is soft on crime.
death penalty, crime, resources, policy
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2020-20-16
Thursday, 16 January 2020 04:20 PM
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