Does the death penalty give vic­tims clo­sure? Let’s see

The Tribune (SLO) - - Local - BY LINDA LEWIS GRIFFITH

The death penalty de­bate is back in the news fol­low­ing Gov. Gavin New­som’s re­cent mora­to­rium on cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment.

As ex­pected, many Cal­i­for­ni­ans are up in arms about the sud­den re­ver­sal of this raw, hotly con­tested is­sue.

Pro­po­nents claim cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment gives vic­tims and their fam­i­lies clo­sure.

Is this true? Or does the death penalty cre­ate more prob­lems than it solves?

Con­sider re­venge. The theme of ret­ri­bu­tion is time­less, aris­ing from such di­verse sources as the Bi­ble, Shake­speare and Quentin Tarantino.

It so per­me­ates our thought pro­cesses that we barely hear our­selves say, “Turnaround is fair play,” or “Re­venge is sweet.”

Yet a 2008 study con­ducted by Kevin Carl­smith and pub­lished in the Jour­nal of Per­son­al­ity and So­cial Psy­chol­ogy found that peo­ple who pun­ish oth­ers in the hopes of mak­ing them­selves feel bet­ter ac­tu­ally feel worse. They end up ru­mi­nat­ing about the event far longer than non-avengers.

Ac­cord­ing to Carl­smith, “Those who don’t have a chance to take re­venge are forced, in a sense, to move on and fo­cus on some­thing dif­fer­ent. And they feel hap­pier.”

Ex­e­cu­tions do not of­fer emo­tional cathar­sis as many would sug­gest.

Brad Bush­man of Ohio State Univer­sity re­ported in a 2002 study that sub­jects who were given the op­por­tu­nity to vent their hos­til­i­ties had higher lev­els of ag­gres­sion and anger than those par­tic­i­pants who did noth­ing at all.

The death penalty keeps vic­tims in­volved in the tragedy for years, even decades, as mul­ti­ple hear­ings, ap­peals and tri­als drag on.

Vic­tims and their fam­i­lies feel stuck in a time

warp, be­ing re­peat­edly re-trau­ma­tized by the le­gal sys­tem and ac­com­pa­ny­ing me­dia cov­er­age.

Cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment does not change the facts of the pre­cip­i­tat­ing event. Re­search con­ducted by Scott Vol­lum con­ducted by Scott Vol­lum at the Univer­sity of Min­nesota showed that ex­e­cut­ing per­pe­tra­tors ac­tu­ally in­creased fam­ily mem­bers’ feel­ings of empti­ness be­cause it didn’t bring back their loved ones.

A mere 2.5 per­cent of vic­tims’ fam­ily mem­bers and friends re­ported clo­sure fol­low­ing an ex­e­cu­tion. And one in five said the ex­e­cu­tion failed to help them heal at all.

A more emo­tion­ally sat­is­fy­ing so­lu­tion seems to be life with­out possibility of pa­role.

A pa­per pub­lished in 2012 in the Mar­quette Law Review com­pared the emo­tional well-be­ing of sur­vivors in Texas, a death penalty state, and Min­nesota, a life with­out possibility of pa­role state.

Re­searchers found that vic­tims in Min­nesota ex­pe­ri­enced greater con­trol over the sen­tenc­ing process, which was “suc­cess­ful, pre­dictable and com­pleted within two years after con­vic­tion.”

In con­trast, the ap­peals process in Texas was “drawn out, elu­sive, delayed, and un­pre­dictable,” and cre­ated “lay­ers of injustice, pow­er­less­ness, and in some in­stances, de­spair” for those in­volved.

The au­thors were quick to point out that Min­nesotans ex­pe­ri­enced acute grief and sor­row due to their trau­mas. But “the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem al­lowed sur­vivors’ con­trol and en­ergy to be put into the present and to be used for per­sonal heal­ing,” they found.

The de­bate about cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment will no doubt rage on.

In­stead of pro­ceed­ing with ar­chaic and in­ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion, let’s con­sider the data and do what re­ally works best.

Linda Lewis Griffith is a re­tired mar­riage, fam­ily and child ther­a­pist who lives in San Luis Obispo. Reach her at lin­dalewis­grif­fith @sbc­global.net.

Cal­i­for­nia De­part­ment of Cor­rec­tions and Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion via AP

A chair is re­moved from the death penalty cham­ber at San Quentin State Prison on March 13. Gov. Gavin New­som signed an ex­ec­u­tive or­der plac­ing a mora­to­rium on the death penalty.

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