Books, Crooks and Counselors – update – Death Penalty

The sentencing chapter of Books, Crooks and Counselors answers writers’ questions about the death penalty. Last week, the Death Penalty Information Center released its year-end report showing that 78 people had been sentenced to death in 2011 and 43 had been executed–compared to 224 sentences and 85 executions in 2000.

According to an NPR report, the DPIC executive director says that the majority of Americans are opposed to or ambivalent about the death penalty. They are concerned about wrongful executions, unfair sentencing–highlighted by debate over Georgia’s execution of Troy Davis–and the expense of the legal process surrounding the death penalty.

A Gallup poll taken in October showed that 61% of Americans favored the death penalty for murder, the lowest support since the early 1970s.

Illinois abolished the death penalty, Oregon recently imposed a moratorium, and bills to ban it have cropped up in several state legislatures, including my state, Montana.

Again according to NPR, the director of the National District Attorneys Association–the prosecutors–says a big factor in the change in support is a change in the alternatives. Years ago, a life sentence often meant 15 to 20 years. Now, all 50 states and the federal system offer life without parole, meaning death in prison. The director also points to the drop in murder rates, now back to 1960s’ levels.

I’ve long thought that life without parole is a far worse sentence than the death penalty. Once you’re dead, you’re done–at least on the earthly plane–with no more guilt, fear, or shame. And no more potential regret, rehabilitation, or forgiveness. Knowing you’ll die in prison, never to walk free, seems far worse to me.

(Photos: Old Montana Prison, Powell County Museum & Arts Foundation. Handcuffs:

8 thoughts on “Books, Crooks and Counselors – update – Death Penalty

  1. I agree with you about the death penalty. The only reason to have it is for revenge. People do point out it’s possible a murderer might get out to murder again, but I think that’s more rare than executing an innocent person. And all the reasons against it make so much sense–the first one being the possibility of executing an innocent person. Then there’s the cost of the death penalty being carried out, the sense by so many that it’s morally wrong, and several other reasons. I’m glad to see more people coming to believe as you and I do.

  2. The first state to abolish the death penalty was Tuscany in 1786. It was abolished by the Kingdom of Italy in 1889, but reintroduced during the Fascist regime. The constitution for the Republic of Italy, adopted in 1944, forbids the death penalty, and there are often protests or vigils here when someone in the United States is being executed.

    • Patricia, didn’t realize executions here triggered protests in Italy. European countries refuse to extradite anyone who might face the death penalty in the US, and American prosecutors typically agree not to seek it in order to get the defendant returned for trial. As my book describes, several states did not re-enact the death penalty after the US Supreme Court struck it down in 1972. In June 2010, 35 states allowed it; Illinois’s action earlier this year makes it 34.

  3. I’ve often thought that a real life long prison sentence is much more punitive than execution. You die a little day staring at bars and stone walls and knowing you are never leaving the place.

    I was one of the ones more ambivalent about the death penalty. In some cases I thought it was all the perpetrator deserved, but then there are cases I thought were weak. I don’t think the death penalty should be applied unless the evidence is overwhelming and there have been too many cases where I didn’t think that applied. And refusing to reopen a death penalty case when new evidence shows up is unconscionable. Every effort, above and beyond any other type of case, needs to be given to prove their guilt. Refusing to, because of ego or the refusal to admit the prosecution or police might be wrong is just wrong.

  4. I’m sure that the majority of NPR listeners do oppose the death penalty. They certainly get a big enough dose of NPR’s propaganda every day.

    The death penalty is not for “revenge.” It’s a damn good deterrent to murder. Life in prison? Would not stop me; I’d consider it a good chance to finally get enough time to read. Being sent to face eternity right this minute? Now that’s scary. And it would mean that I’d never get to do anything else on earth.

    The ONLY downside to the death penalty is the chance that an innocent person might be executed, and that’s a doozy. However, the timetable for execution is so slooooow, and the appeals process so thorough, that it makes this a rare thing. Not, unfortunately, a non-occurrence, but certainly not a regular event.

    And yes, murderers do get out of prison, and they kill again. To think otherwise is to engage in reckless naivety. The purpose of prisons is to protect the general population from evildoers. “Life” imprisonment usually means at least seven (7!) years in prison, and frequently not much more than that. So, in seven years the murderer is out, walking on the same sidewalks that your children walk on. What do you want to bet that his victim(s) will still be moldering below ground?

    Tell you what. When an NPR afficianado is s, let’s give the murderer a prison sentence. If I get murdered, or if my loved one gets murdered? The death penalty makes things even-steven and keeps the murderer from killing again.

    Would you want Timothy McVeigh strolling through your local shopping center? No chance of that, because he’s dead. Charles Manson, however, comes up for parole every couple of years.

    • To be clear, the poll was done by Gallup, not NPR. Gallup runs the same poll every year; follow the link in my post and you can see the questions asked and the responses.

  5. Second sentence of the next-to-last paragraph should read, “…when an NPR aficianado is murdered,…”

    I knew I couldn’t type that much without a mistake.

  6. I think violent criminals deserve the death penalty especially if the victim suffered substantially. To say a life sentence is far worse is ludicrous: the criminal gets 3 meals a day, a reasonably warm bed, medical care, access to television and recreation time. this is far more than the criminal allowed the victim!

    Life in prison also means taxpayers will foot the high cost of that criminal’s food, clothing, shelter and medical care for a long, long time. What kind of deterrent is that? Yes, mistakes happen; that’s why inmates on death row have so many appeals before they ave to finally answer to the music.

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