Capital Punishment: Costs of The Death Penalty


Let us suppose that killing as a form of punishment is a moral and
universally accepted practice. Would it then be acceptable to issue this
irreparable sanction to a select few while allowing others, equally accountable,
to avoid it? It is acceptable to our criminal justice system for it seems to be
standard operating procedure. Many embrace the death penalty based on the "eye
for an eye" concept. There is certainly some merit to this argument and it
seems quite fair and logical. Unfortunately our use of the death penalty is
neither fair nor logical. Our criminal justice system\'s "lip service" to the
age-old concept is an insulting disguise for such an obscurity of fairness and
logic. The death penalty is frivolous and discriminatory in its procedure
because of the unreasonable prices we pay to execute certain groups at much
higher rates than others.
We pay different prices for using a death penalty. Sadly, today more than
ever, the dollar seems to be the endlessly interchangeable standard of value.
We strive to make money, save money and when we spend money we do so with a
valued return in mind. Accordingly, a popular argument contends that we spend
too much money incarcerating prisoners for life. We probably do but the price
tag on issuing a death sentence according to a Florida study is $3.1 million
compared to $1 million for a life sentence; a 3100% difference (Walker 1994,
108). Imagine your death being valued at $3.1 million - how flattering. Based
on these figures, the difference in the price of an execution and the price of
life behind bars is enough to feed 7,200 starving children for ten years.
The price of an execution is amazing. Naturally, for such a price, we
should consider our "valued" return. In return for an execution we receive
utter incapacitation; an essential return indeed but we get the same from a life
sentence at a fraction of the cost. What else do we get? Perhaps we satisfy a
need for revenge. Perhaps we feel that we need to keep revenge alive at any
price. After all, we pay top dollar for it. So who exactly is the target of
our vengeance and why? From 1930 to 1980 executions for whites numbered 1754
compared to 2066 for blacks (Bedau 1982). In 1978 blacks claimed 4888 murder
victims. Of these, 536 were white or 12% (Bedau 1982). About half the death
row population was black and 85% of their victims were white (Bedau 1982).
Blacks who kill whites have a 25% chance of receiving the death penalty while
whites have a 0% chance of receiving it for killing a black. For a black person,
killing a white person could be deadly.
Our criminal justice system\'s use of the death penalty appears increasingly
void of rationale when we consider the other prices we pay. Executions take up
to fifteen years or longer (Walker 1994,106). We not only pay for executions
but incarceration as well! There is also the ultimate price. In the wake of
the criminal justice system\'s quest to lethally condemn a specific offender,
some innocently accused are gassed, hanged and electrocuted in the name of
retribution. There are twenty-three known cases of the innocent being put to
death by the "state" (Walker 1994,106). Oops. The process of the death penalty
is not only frivolous. It is reckless as well.
The criminal justice system is discriminatory in its use of the death
penalty. If the overwhelming bias in the process of the death penalty isn\'t
convincing then perhaps the phenomenal expenditures are. Either way we look we
find a gross absurdity. The funding of the death penalty is frivolous, its
fairness is unrealistic and its process as a whole is unconscionable.

Category: History