This article was contributed to Artists vs. Death Penalty Blogspot (2/6/11)
“If we execute murderers and there is in fact no deterrent effect, we have killed a bunch of murderers. If we fail to execute murderers, and doing so would in fact have deterred other murders, we have allowed the killing of a bunch of innocent victims. I would much rather risk the former. This, to me, is not a tough call.”
John McAdams – Marquette University/Department of Political Science, on deterrence
According to Death Penalty Focus: A July 2009 study titled “DO EXECUTIONS LOWER HOMICIDE RATES?: THE VIEWS OF LEADING CRIMINOLOGISTS” by Michael L. Radelet and Traci L. LaCock, demonstrates an overwhelming consensus among criminologists that the empirical research conducted on the deterrence question strongly supports the conclusion that the death penalty does not add deterrent effects to those already achieved by long imprisonment.
Here’s another option for dealing with murderers you may not have considered:
A Minneapolis Mother Forgives Her Son’s Killer
My personal reason for opposing the death penalty is not because it’s too cruel or violent a punishment to inflict on a person who has committed a heinous crime.
The reason I’m opposed to the death penalty is because it’s a cruel and violent burden to bear for the executioners and supporters of the execution. Even if people think that it is what they want and what would make them feel better, I think they’re wrong.
Spending one’s days planning someone’s murder – and that’s what execution amounts to – cannot contribute to the health and well-being of an individual or a society. It’s not the way human beings are made.
Think of a time when you were really, really hurt or angry at someone. Did you strike out to hurt them in an act of retaliation? If you did, then did it make you feel better after the heat of the moment had passed? I have been in that situation and it didn’t make me feel better; it made me feel worse. It is a life-depleting activity to hurt people even if we think they “deserve it.”
Jonathan Glover, in his report Causing Death and Saving Lives, puts it like this:
“For most normal people, to be professionally involved with executions, whether as judge, prison warder or chaplain, or executioner, must be highly disturbing. Arthur Koestler quotes the case of the executioner Ellis, who attempted suicide a few weeks after he executed a sick woman ‘whose insides fell out before she vanished through the trap’. [Arthur Koestler: Reflections on Hanging, London, 1956.] … And there are wider effects on society at large. When there is capital punishment, we are all involved in the horrible business of a long-premeditated killing … It cannot be good for children at school to know that there is an execution at the prison down the road. And there is another bad effect, drily stated in the Report of the Royal Commission on Capital Punishment: ‘No doubt the ambition that prompts an average of five applications a week for the post of hangman, and the craving that draws a crowd to the prison where a notorious murderer is being executed, reveal psychological qualities that no state would wish to foster in its citizens.’”
I strongly disagree with the sentiment expressed above in Mr. McAdams quote. From my perspective the truth would be stated more accurately like this: If we execute murderers and there is in fact no deterrent effect, we have killed a part of ourselves — our own humanity.
Consider the words of Mary Johnson from Minneapolis, describing how it felt to forgive the murderer of her son 16 years later, “When I stood up, I began to feel something in my feet. And it just began to move all the way up my body and it just went and I knew, I knew that all the anger, all the hatred, all the animosity I had for him, I knew it was over with. It was gone.”
Love and forgiveness expand feelings of peace and safety.
The death penalty only expands the murderer’s reign of terror. It does not extinguish it.