Death penalty isn’t right
Friday, January 31, 2014
The death penalty isn’t right – or sensible
To the Editor:
Is the death penalty good for New Hampshire’s economy?
If the current death row resident of the New Hampshire Men’s Prison, Michael Addison, is executed soon, it will have cost taxpayers approximately $7 million, as reported recently in the Union Leader. Compare that figure spent over the last few years with a cost of $2 million spent over 40 years for a life sentence.
Of course, the $7 million has already entered our state economy via the legal profession mostly, I would think. One might call that a form of government economic stimulus. If so, as the deterrent that it is not or as a satisfaction some obtain from knowing that we have a death penalty, it costs far more than it is worth.
I rarely if ever see or hear this expense as an argument for repealing the death penalty. While knowledge of what it costs to keep someone in prison may not be widespread, we hear increasingly of the shameful fact that the failed war on drugs has filled American prisons to the breaking point, making our prisons more populated per person than in any other country.
Only recently, some of the nation’s prisons, California among them, have begun to release prisoners early due to overcrowding and to save money.
Retributive justice, the biblical “eye for an eye,” meant originally that revenge should not be greater than the original offense, an impressive bulwark against endless tribal cycles of vengeance wreaking destruction. Today, some take it as a justification for executing murderers.
The trouble with this view lies in the numerous times we have heard of executions of those later discovered to be innocent.
Where is the limitation of an “eye for an eye” when the ever widening circle of mayhem and suffering includes additional innocent deaths at the hands of the government? When an innocent life is taken in addition to the innocent life of an original victim, neither life is replaced.
If law enforcement and the courts cannot know and correct their mistakes, and thus cannot act with infallibility, they should not have the power to take life.
Furthermore, if it’s revenge one wants, what could be worse than inflicting 23 hours a day of solitary lifetime confinement? Especially if it costs less! Human beings are profoundly social animals, which includes all but the most deranged criminals (and I expect most of those as well).
In “Crime & Human Nature” by James Q. Wilson and Richard J. Herrnsten, both of Harvard University, I’ve read that prison populations exhibit overwhelmingly poor impulse control in their current behavior, as well as in the criminal behavior that resulted in their incarceration.
Early childhood neglect, family trauma and subsequent mishaps are among the causes, a reality that should argue for increased government spending on kindergarten, preschool, such as Headstart, and even preschooling prior to preschool!
How that execution money could have been better spent if every child, regardless of social class, received the early attention that social and psychological science now know to reduce hugely the lack of self-management behind most criminals behavior.
In spite of the above, I would guess the most profound and widespread reason to repeal the death penalty lies elsewhere. Regardless of one’s values or beliefs, politics or economics, whether a matter of philosophy or religion, I have to believe that there is widespread agreement that taking life is simply wrong, whether as a criminal act or of a government seeking to enforce the current law.
Executing Addison, and any who come after him, just isn’t right. It may be legal, but it isn’t right.
In the final analysis, that’s why the law should be changed.
THE REV. WILLIAM S. GANNON