Bringing back executions in US a mistake
The Trump administration’s decision to start executing federal death row prisoners after a 16-year lull is a bad idea that reeks of politics rather than a sound decision based on the effectiveness of capital punishment as a crime-fighting tool.
If the administration truly supports criminal justice reform, as it claimed back in December when it supported a package of changes to the justice system, including reducing mandatory minimum sentences, then it needs to rethink reviving a practice that has been shown to be discriminatory, unjust, prone to error and ineffective at deterring crime.
It’s curious that as use of the death penalty has waned across the country, President Donald Trump would suddenly want to revive it. In 2017, the number of prisoners sentenced to death declined for the 17th year in a row, according to a report released this month by Mr. Trump’s own justice department. Many states, including Maryland, no longer allow the killing of criminals as punishment. The last federal execution was in 2003, and there have only been three since 1988.
That will change now that the administration has ordered the execution of five inmates in December and January. That’s right, the country will kill more inmates in two months than in 31years.
We see through your political tactics, Mr. Trump. The death penalty is another one of those divisive and partisan wedge issues you believe will rile up your base, present you as a tough on crime politician and Democrats as soft on the issue. The subject is sure to divide the parties. It’s of a piece with Mr. Trump’s constant playing of the race card and use of dog-whistle politics to remind a certain segment of white voters he has their backs.
The problem is that Mr. Trump is playing with people’s lives here. Life without parole is a far better sentence given that death row process has been shown to be far from perfect.
Far too many people have been sent to death row only to be determined innocent later. Since 1973, 166 former death row prisoners have been exonerated of all charges and set free, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. If you’re African American you are more likely to be sentenced to death. (More than half of inmates on federal death row are black or Latino.) Same if you’re poor and can’t pay for good representation.
On top of that, all the resources used to pursue these cases don’t keep us any safer and could be used on other crime fighting tactics.
States without the death penalty have lower murder rates than those with it, and the South has more than 80% of the nation’s executions and the highest murder rate in the United States, according to Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty.
Yes, that’s right, “conservatives” and Republicans are concerned about bringing back the death penalty as well. They have come out to express their disagreement with their idea.
If the injustice isn’t bad enough, there is also the trauma the death row process can inflict on the families of victims. The appeals process can take decades, opening new wounds with each appeal and trial. Attorney General William Barr said in a statement that “The Justice Department upholds the rule of law — and we owe it to the victims and their families to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system.” A life sentence may actually be more humane for these families.
This same is true for executioners, a group that people are less likely to think about in the conversations about the death penalty. Many of them also say they experience a certain trauma from taking someone’s life.
We doubt any of this matters to Mr. Trump, whohas long been a staunch supporter of the death penalty. His obstinacy on the issue was made clear when refused to apologize to the Central Park Five, a group of black and Latino teenagers he made the poster children for the death penalty after they were accused of raping a white woman in Central Park in1989. They were cleared of the crime years later, but that wasn’t enough for Mr. Trump.
Apparently his support of criminal justice reform only goes so far. For the sake of justice, the federal government doesn’t need to bring back executions, but our president would prefer to take the country back in time.