Typically, support for the death penalty comes among Republicans and conservatives, the groups known historically for being “tough on crime.” But a new coalition aims to give a voice to those conservatives who feel otherwise.
Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty (CCATDP) debuted at CPAC in Maryland this year and has since gained considerable publicity. “It’s important to remember that we can be tough on crime, but we have to be smart on crime too,” says Marc Hyden, National Advocacy Coordinator for CCATDP.
Looking at Gallup’s “important issues” to voters in the 2012 election, the death penalty wasn’t even on the list. Yet the American public is slowly turning away from an expensive, morally questionable policy, and this trend is not lost on conservatives.
A new poll by Gallup reported that support for the death penalty is at its lowest point in 40 years, dropping from 80 percent in 1994 to 60 percent today.
Hyden believes there is a growing “hunger” among conservatives to reevaluate this issue. “Conservatives aren’t homogenous in their views, and we come to the conclusion that the death penalty is inconsistent with our philosophies for various reasons,” he says.
CCATDP takes a two-pronged approach. First, they put forth the moral argument – killing an innocent U.S. citizen is never acceptable. Giving the government that power is especially worrisome, especially when the death penalty has a long history of overturned convictions.
The argument is well-supported by facts. According to Amnesty International, 130 people have been released from death rows since 1973 due to evidence of their wrongful convictions. There are many other cases in which new evidence suggests that executed criminals were in fact innocent.
But for those who may not be convinced by the moral argument, the fiscal argument really hits home. “Conservatives believe that the government should exercise fiscal responsibility and restraint, and the waste of the death penalty process is in direct conflict with fiscal conservatism,” says Hyden.
Multiple studies have demonstrated the astonishingly high cost of executing an offender. A FOX report puts it simply, “The cost of killing killers is killing us.”
A study of prosecution costs in Maryland revealed that the average case in which the death penalty was pursued cost $1.9 million more than a case without the death penalty. The extra appeals, motions, and procedures that must be followed consume taxpayers’ money, and many argue that the money could be better spent on schools and infrastructure.
CCATDP has been working to create a dialogue between conservatives and libertarians to revisit this issue. They recently partnered with Young Americans for Liberty in an effort to inform young people about the high moral and financial costs associated with what Hyden calls “yet another failed government program.”
In the end, the best argument comes to pragmatism and limited government. “Whether you support the death penalty biblically or theoretically, we can all agree that our government does not run it efficiently, with the proper efficacy, or fairly in practice,” Hyden says.
Perhaps Republicans will reconsider their stance on the death penalty as they look for ways to rebrand the party.