Even the Police Chiefs agree…

... that the Death Penalty makes no sense.

In a recent report released by the Death Penalty Information Centre, the findings from a poll of US Police Chiefs conducted in late 2008 were also included. The net message of the report reinforces two of the many reasons why the death penalty should be abolished: 

  • IT IS NOT A DETERRENT AGAINST CRIME : since few perpetrators of violent crime consider the consequences of their actions; and many commit their crimes under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.
  • IT IS FINANCIALLY INEFFICIENT AND UNJUST : since the cost of administering the appeals system and housing condemned inmates is a massive drain on State budgets; and more of this money could be made available for other things including better assistance for victims’ families.
Most of the Police chiefs polled ranked the death penalty as the least efficient use of taxpayers’ money, when there are not enough police on the streets fighting crime and the causes of crime, particularly in the area of gang culture and drug abuse, and when there are not enough funds available for equipment and training to help solve crimes
California spends $137 million per year on the death penalty and has not had an execution in almost four years, even as the state pays its employees in IOUs and releases inmates early to address overcrowding and budget shortfalls. In Florida, where the courts have lost 10 percent of their funding, the state spends $51 million dollars per year on the death penalty or $24 million for each execution.

Sadly, the well-established financial argument has led some commentators to call for a resolution to this issue in the shape of shortening the time elapsed between sentencing and execution. In some parts of the world, already, execution follows directly from sentencing, with minimal or no opportunity for appeal. In the recent case of the executed ‘DC Sniper’ John Allen Muhammad, the time served was only 7 years (6 on Death Row), however the longest-serving death row prisoners have been there over 30 years without arriving at an execution date; such lengthy waits in death row conditions raise all sorts of questions about ‘cruel and unusual punishment‘ and give rise to prisoner suicide and ‘volunteering’ for execution (but that’s a topic for another blogpost, another day…). But… heaven forbid those States pushing to reduce the time to execution and hastening death – the appeals system is there for a reason! Too, too many cases of wrongful conviction, and well… sigh… no-one deserves to die, no-one, let alone have their state-sanctioned murder precipitated to save money!
So to the second point raised: clearly, the death penalty as a sanction has little deterrent effect. This is again a hotly debated issue – but aside from the obvious and instinctive view that someone intent on killing or out of their mind on drugs is not going to stop and pause and think ‘Hmmm, maybe I shouldn’t do this or I might get into trouble?’, let alone that they might lose their own life as a result of their action, the statistics just don’t reflect that the threat of capital punishment reduces capital crimes. 
“The death penalty is a colossal waste of money that would be better spent putting more cops on the street. New Jersey threw away $250 million on the death penalty over 25 years with nothing to show for it. The death penalty isn’t a deterrent whatsoever. New Jersey’s murder rate has dropped since the state got rid of the death penalty. If other states abolished the death penalty, law enforcement wouldn’t miss it and the cost savings could be used on more effective crime-fighting programs,” said Police Chief James Abbott of West Orange, New Jersey. Abbott, a Republican, has served 29 years on the police force and was a member of the state commission that recommended the death penalty be abolished.
One area where retentionists, especially those working in penal enforcement roles, i.e. prison officers, observe that the death penalty does carry weight as a final sanction is in the prevention of violent crime amongst lifers.  They argue that prisoners already sentenced to life, with or without parole, may commit murder against each other or against prison workers because they have nothing more to lose. Indeed, in some US States the murder of a prison or police officer carries a mandatory death sentence, and murder by a convict is the number one ‘aggravating factor’ formerly listed in the American Law Institute’s model penal code which would direct jurors to arrive at a death sentence verdict if committed. These are shown below:

Aggravating Circumstances. 


(a) The murder was committed by a convict under sentence of imprisonment. 


(b) The defendant was previously convicted of another murder or of a felony involving 

the use or threat of violence to the person. 


(c) At the time the murder was committed the defendant also committed another 



(d) The defendant knowingly created a great risk of death to many persons. 


(e) The murder was committed while the defendant was engaged or was an accomplice 

in the commission of, or an attempt to commit, or flight after committing or attempting 

to commit robbery, rape or deviate sexual intercourse by force or threat of force, arson, 

burglary or kidnaping. 


(f) The murder was committed for the purpose of avoiding or preventing a lawful arrest 

or effecting an escape from lawful custody. 


(g) The murder was committed for pecuniary gain. 


(h) The murder was especially heinous, atrocious or cruel, manifesting exceptional 


Interestingly the American Law Institute has just announced that is has abandoned this element (section 210.6) of the Model Penal Code because of doubts around the workability of the whole system…
“For reasons stated in Part V of the Council’s report to the membership, the Institute withdraws Section 210.6 of the Model Penal Code in light of the current intractable institutional and structural obstacles to ensuring a minimally adequate system for administering capital punishment.” 
I am hoping to uncover more facts behind this aspect of the death penalty as ‘the ultimate sanction’ in due course. 

November 14, 2009 - Posted by | california, cost, death penalty, deterrent, Florida, police, suicide, volunteer

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