Conservatives should take the lead on opposing the death penalty because it is inaccurate, inequitable and inefficient.
Fact is, the death penalty doesn’t have a great track record for executing people who are actually guilty. More often than you’d expect, innocent people are convicted of gruesome crimes. The Innocence Project estimates that 347 people were exonerated by DNA evidence in the last 30 years, 20 of whom were on death row.
The Death Penalty Information Center maintains a list of 156 people who were convicted and sentenced to death in the last 44 years but were either subsequently acquitted, pardoned based on evidence of innocence or had all charges against them dismissed. This is unacceptable.
The death penalty is also inequitable. Research continues to show that prosecutors are more likely to seek the death penalty for minority defendants, especially when the victim is white. In fact, according to Amnesty International’s assessment of a number of studies, “the single most reliable predictor of whether someone will be sentenced to death is the race of the victim.”
Moreover, the death penalty is an incredible waste of taxpayer resources. A study by the Washington State Bar Association concluded that seeking the death penalty added more than $500,000 in additional costs compared to a similar trial without the death penalty on the table.
Numerous studies have found that prosecutions in the average death penalty case cost over $1 million more than a case in which the death penalty is not sought. As appeals stretch on, these costs increase astronomically. Since some defendants in these cases use public defenders, the taxpayer is footing the bill for both sides of the case.
Conservative lawmakers in many states are starting to realize the problems with the death penalty, though progress is slow. For the first time in recent years, the Republican-led Missouri Senate debated a measure to repeal the death penalty (though no bill was passed). Utah’s senate went a step further by actually passing a death penalty repeal bill, only to have it fall short in the House. Nebraska led the way in 2015 when it became the first conservative state in 40 years to repeal the death penalty — only to have the governor fund a referendum that reinstated it.
And even though the death penalty is technically still legal in 32 states, very few actually follow through with executions. (As a result, states spend millions of dollars on legal battles arguing for the right to impose the death penalty — only to barely ever use it.) Executions by year have been plummeting since 1999, with only 20 executions in 2016, despite thousands still on death row. Due to legal problems with Florida’s death penalty, the Washington Post reported, hundreds of inmates may need to be retried before they can be executed, adding millions more in taxpayer costs to Florida residents.
Since death row inmates can cost up to twice as much as typical inmates to house each year, keeping so many inmates on death row (where the vast majority simply die of old age) costs states millions of additional dollars. All of the additional legal fees and incarceration costs are unjustified, since the vast majority of the executions will never be carried out anyway.
Young Christians are also starting to oppose the death penalty in greater numbers than their parents, according to a 2014 survey by Barna Group. This difference in opinion was a factor in the decision of the National Association of Evangelicals to change its historic position of support for the death penalty. And other religious groups, including the Catholic Church, have long opposed the death penalty.
“Conservatives are increasingly advocating for the death penalty’s repeal because it violates our core tenets of valuing life and promoting fiscal responsibility and limited government,” Marc Hyden, the national advocacy coordinator for Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty, told Opportunity Lives. “Capital punishment inherently and repeatedly risks innocent lives, costs far more than life without parole, and it gives an error-prone state an immense power over the people.”
It’s time for us to lead the charge and eliminate the death penalty for good.