If you wandered over here from my youtube channel www.youtube.com/user/CrystalEye736, you'll know that I have been uploading my favortive Penn and Teller Bullshit! episodes, most of which are of course a little controversial. However, of all the videos that I have uploaded, I never expected the one to get the most criticism, anger and violent comments to be the one on the death penalty.
I suppose growing up in Europe I figured, who can really be in favor of the death penalty, apart from crazy right-wingers? Sure that isn't to say that I couldn't imagine wanting someone who killed someone I love to die a slow and painful death, but that is personal anger and vengence, not something I would condone being the law of the land. When my house was broken in to and my things stolen I wished for a while that I had been in the house at the time waiting for those fuckers with a baseball bat, but the idea that the penalty by law for burglary could be pummeling someone with a piece of wood would horrify me.
Nevertheless, even allowing for a few trolls and crazies, the number of comments that were disgusted with the idea that the death penalty should be abolished was enormously high. I say trolls because I can only hope that a few, like the one that told me to get myself raped and murdered because of my dissenting opinion, or the one that said he could care less if innocent people were executed as they were acceptable collateral damage in a necessary process, were trolls. If not, that would be immensly depressing.
So, never knowing I would need to address this, it seems as though I should outline in full why I came to the conclusion that the US should get with the program and abolish the death penalty. No, it's not going to be for any lofty philosophical moral reasons. Whether or not you think it's wrong to execute someone is immaterial in this argument for the moment. It comes down to the fact that the most common arguments that are pro-death penalty are really just ways to rationalize a thirst for vengence on those who have harmed others. I want to leave personal feelings, which I don't think have a place in lawmaking, out for a while and address these "rationalizations" in turn.
1. Why spend money keeping this filth alive? Kill them and they will no longer be a burden on the state!!
Well, that one is pretty easy. States which have the death penalty, like California for example, have spent more money executing the people sentenced to death than it would have to keep them alive. If you think about it for a little bit, it really isn't that hard to understand why. People spend years on death row, they have the right to appeals, which have enormous trial costs associated with them. You also have to house them in a seperate part of the prison, you have to staff and manage that part of the prison, all of which increases the costs per prisoner enormously. Think of it like this: is it cheaper to cook dinner for 100 people, or cook dinner for 99 people but one of them has to eat a completely seperate meal?
So here people say well then forget the long appeals process and just kill them as soon as convicted, do away with death row end of story. Well, considering that over 100 people have been found to be innocent after being sentenced to death in the US you shouldn't be in favor of this at all, unless you actually do think that over 100 innocent lives are perfectly acceptable collateral damage to the justice system.
2. The death penalty acts as a deterrant for other criminals
Once again, the facts say otherwise. The US has much higher murder rates than other 1st world countries which don't have one. Even individual states within the US which have the death penalty tend to have higher murder rates than those without (see http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/murder-rates-nationally-and-state), so it's acting like a pretty shit deterrant.
3. It's justice for the families of the victim
OK, but life in prison isn't? Knowing that the monster that killed your loved one will rot in jail for the rest of their lives behind bars and die a lonely death in a cement block isn't? This argument is more difficult to understand because once again it falls back on personal feelings and opinion. There are many families that want the murderer that killed their loved one to be executed, and there are many who do not, it's not really feasible to base such a monumental law on this alone.
4. Life in jail or solitary confinement is cruel and unusual punishment, much better to put them to death
OK this one is absolutely ridiculous. You're saying that it's better for the criminal to be executed? Fine then, have an optional death penalty. Let the convict choose between being executed and life in prison. Actually, this is one death penalty that I could be completely in favor of.
That's the long and short of it anyway. Is there another point in this debate that I am missing? Let me know