In 1976 the death penalty was reintroduced into the justice system in America, although (as of December 2019) it is only legal in 29 states. Prisoners on death row can often be there for many years, even decades, for example Gary Alvord who was convicted of strangling three women in 1974 actually died of natural causes on death row after serving over 40 years. Is it any different to life in prison?
The main reason seems to be the appeals process; prisoners on death row are entitled to various appeals which take time. Some may argue that their lawyers were incompetent, or request extra forensic testing be done. Furthermore, science is progressing all the time, especially with regard to DNA so there are new tests which could prove vital to their case. Death row inmates have been exonerated by new DNA tests, e.g. Kirk Bloodsworth; please find more about his case here. As a result of the delays, more people are put on death row each year than executed. Appeals are important because there can be no doubt about the inmates guilt if they are to be executed, however “There are some judges and legal scholars now charge that these long delays constitute cruel and inhuman punishment in themselves.” (bnd.com) and I’m inclined to agree it is. Not only for the prisoner, but for the victim’s family as well, whilst also being a drain on tax payer’s money.
Furthermore, the death penalty doesn’t seem to be a deterrent as “States that have death penalty laws do not have lower crime rates or murder rates than states without such laws.” (aclu.org) Does it serve a purpose if crime rates aren’t affected? What is actually achieved by having the death penalty when prisoners can spend decades waiting for an execution date?
Until 2005, another problem was minors being tried as adults and sentenced to death for their crimes. Minors being tried as adults is fundamentally problematic in itself, but especially when the death penalty is an option. In 2005 during Roper vs. Simmons it was ruled unconstitutional for the death penalty to be used when the prisoner was a minor at the time of their crime. As a result, a number of death row inmates had their sentence re-evaluated and commuted to life in prison. Find more information on Roper vs. Simmons here. Could this be the start of a changing system?
I don’t believe in the death penalty for two main reasons: Firstly, mistakes happen and the wrong person may have been found guilty: CNN found “Since 1973, there have been 185 death row exonerations (as of March 2021)” (edition.cnn.com). Secondly, if the state takes a life as punishment for taking a murder, aren’t they also guilty of murder? Murder for a murder doesn’t make anyone a saint. My only issue with life in prison is that they’re then a financial drain on the state and hard-working citizen’s taxes for the rest of their lives. Prisons need to be financially supporting themselves through the work of the inmates. Overall, it’s a flawed, ineffective system that desperately requires an overhaul.
I understand this is a controversial topic, please remain civil in the comments. This is my opinion but you’re welcome to disagree.