There are few policies that inspire a faster response. In fact, I’m betting your own answer has already sprung into your mind.
Growing up as a conservative in the south, my own answer to that question was always a resounding “yes.”
Binge-watching crime shows like "CSI" and "Law & Order" most likely contributed to my views. In these shows, there is always DNA evidence, police and the prosecutors consistently follow the law, and the right offender is always identified. For many Americans, this is as close as they will get to the criminal justice system. But nothing could be further from reality.
I changed my mind on the death penalty when I began working on criminal justice reform policies and was presented with the basic facts surrounding the system. DNA evidence is actually only available in fewer than 10 percent of cases, and it is hardly as concrete and infallible as TV shows portray. In fact, many practices once considered foolproof have been proven to be “junk science,” including bite-mark evidence, ballistics testing, and microscopic hair analysis.
This means that there is a lot more room for error in the system than one might initially think. In fact, 162 people have been exonerated from death row when evidence of their innocence was finally examined. That’s no small number, it’s actually about one exoneration for every ten executions.
Upon considering these facts, one might be convinced that the death penalty system is problematic, but it gets worse. Not only is the risk of a wrongful conviction high, it’s also costly. And no, shortening the appeals process would not make it cheaper; it would just result in innocent people being killed by their government. (70 percent of the death penalty’s costs are incurred at the trial level).
And while all citizens bear the costs of the death penalty, it really is only 2 percent of counties that bring the majority of death penalty cases. Whether or not to seek death is entirely up to the prosecutor’s office, and the reality is that most do not choose to pursue it. Since reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, all executions have come from only 15 percent of counties. What this all means is that it isn’t the worst crimes that end up being capitally charged, it’s just dependent on where the crime occurs. Interestingly enough, the areas that use the death penalty the most frequently continue to have the highest rates for violent crime as well.
On top of all of this, out of 52,175 murders in 50 cities over the last 10 years, 51 percent did not result in an arrest. Additionally, less than one fifth of property crimes are actually cleared, and the nation faces a severe backlog for rape kits with some estimates putting it in the hundreds of thousands for kits waiting to be tested. We’re not being tough on crime under this system, we’re wasting valuable resources that could be used to solve more crimes.
All of these reasons contributed to my changing my stance on the death penalty several years ago, and I continue to find more issues within the system that concern me.
Due to these concerns, I can no longer stay silent on this issue, which is why I am pleased to have taken on a new role as the National Manager for an organization called Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty (CCATDP). CCATDP is working across the country to educate people about these serious problems with the death penalty and seeking reforms. No matter what you think about the death penalty in theory, it’s time for us to recognize that it is not working in practice and should be eliminated.
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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