We risk putting the innocent to death. Since 1976, more than 1,300 individuals have been executed in the United States. As of today, more than 155 individuals have been exonerated and released from death row. In other words, for every 10 people who have been executed since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, one person was wrongfully sentenced to death and then set free.
Worse, we now know people who have been executed despite serious doubts about their guilt. Wrongful convictions and executions happen due to mistaken eye witness testimony, faulty forensic science, fabricated testimony, grossly incompetent lawyers, false confessions, police or prosecutorial misconduct, and racial bias.
Racial discrimination pervades the U.S. criminal justice system. Studies spanning more than 30 years, covering virtually every state that uses capital punishment, have found that race is a significant factor in death penalty cases.
The broken system allows several possible sources of bias to pervade a capital case. While a fair jury is guaranteed by the Constitution, jurors are often denied based on their race. Other studies have shown that the death penalty is sought more often against people who kill white victims than people of color. There must be a fundamental change in the system, and that change starts with ending capital punishment.
States could save millions of dollars each year by not only eliminating the death penalty but also redirecting death penalty dollars in a careful and targeted way to reduce crime and improve communities.
Numerous studies conducted across the country have concluded again and again that the death penalty is more expensive than alternative sentences. Instead of spending millions on capital punishment, states could invest in early childhood education, anti-gang programs, mental health and substance abuse treatment, high school graduation programs for at-risk youth and services for crime victims and their families like grief counseling and funeral costs.
We must prioritize providing for the needs of violent crime victims, because current resources are limited.
Just as troubling, surviving family members who oppose the death penalty too often find that their opposition to capital punishment leads to being treated with less dignity and respect. They often have to fight for the basic victims’ rights that they legally have. Every victim’s feelings and views regarding capital punishment must be respected.
The death penalty has unintended – and largely unspoken – consequences for those who work in corrections.
Prison wardens, chaplains, executioners, and corrections officers all experience the psychological toll of carrying out an execution. Many have reported suffering PTSD-like symptoms such as flashbacks, nightmares and other forms of distress and some have even committed suicide. Among these prison workers, the totality of the executions they took part in is forever ingrained in their lives. They are unconsidered casualties of the death penalty.