Conservatives Reconsider the Death Penalty

Courthouse (Clyde Robinson)

(Flickr / Clyde Robinson)

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.

Originally published at Communities at

12 responses to “Conservatives Reconsider the Death Penalty

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  5. You make strong arguments for not continuing the death penalty. Can you expand on the other half of the financial question though? According to your article, the litigation costs of a death penalty case is much more. Makes sense. But I always thought part of the financial reasoning is that the costs of actually executing someone was less than the costs of feeding and housing them for 60-70 years. I have not researched facts on that and your article does not mention that side of it. Is there a savings there that offsets the litigation costs somewhat? Or is our execution process today so onerous that it actually costs more than room and board for a prisoner’s lifetime?

    • Your last question is correct. Our execution process is so onerous that it actually costs more than room and board for a prisoner’s lifetime. It’s hard to believe, but the cost of litigation is astronomical and the appeals and motions that delay executions literally cost the government millions of dollars to fight.

      There have been several studies reaching the same conclusion, so it’s generally-accepted that it is more expensive. However, proponents of capital punishment still argue that we should “reform the legal process” to cut costs rather than stop the death penalty.

      So either way, you get back to the moral question.

  6. Interesting topic to consider again. You’ve conveyed a two prong approach: moral and fiscal. I remember sharing with you an idea I picked up from Tom Sowell, fidelity to task.

    If the problem is conviction of innocents, then we should improve our justice system so fewer innocents are convicted. If the problem is cost of appeals litigation, then we should reform the appeals process so it is simplified and less costly. If the problem is that the death penalty is culturally distasteful, then that should be simply acknowledged for what it is, a political consideration. But the death penalty should not banned because of a deficiency in an other area of government or for political expediency. To do so for either reason, in my view, would be immoral, since it would only bandaid over the real problem.

    I don’t think the death penalty should be banned on moral or ethical grounds. But the fiscal consideration makes it fairly compelling for a state to drop the practice.

    All the more, the fiscal reasoning convicts me of the need to simplify our laws and beat back the ever expanding sense of entitlement and rights we collectively hold. Litigation makes everything more expensive: healthcare, construction, education, our penal system.

    • Great comments. As always, I appreciate your wisdom. For me, I have several personal experiences with seeing God work in the lives of convicted prisoners, and it’s also hard for me to prevent the chance of that happening somewhere down the road.

      I’m 100% with you on litigation and health care. Something I’d love to dive into fixing.

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