Diary

Support for capital punishment is fading among Republicans

From The Wall Street Journal:

Some Republican Lawmakers Back Ballot Measures to Overturn Death Penalty

New opponents see a costly government program that isn’t working or cite religious objections

By Zusha Elinson | Updated Oct. 23, 2016 7:29 a.m. ET

Campaigns fighting to overturn the death penalty at the ballot box are getting unlikely support from some Republicans, who cite a growing concern that it has become a costly and ineffective government program.

In November, voters in Nebraska and California will decide whether to abolish the death penalty, while Oklahomans will vote on a measure that would give the state more leeway in the methods used to kill death-row inmates.

“Republicans are starting to take the lead on this issue, they’re starting to say we’re going to use our conservative principles and get rid of this,” said Colby Coash, a Republican state senator from Nebraska. “Here’s a broken government program, if you want to fix broken government programs.”

Mr. Coash rallied the Republican-majority state Legislature to ban the death penalty last year. Now, the question has landed on the ballot, but his opponents argue that voters in the Cornhusker State won’t be so easily convinced.

There’s more at the link.

There are ten men on death row in Nebraska; since the reinstitution of capital punishment in 1976, just three condemned men have been put to death in the Cornhusker State, all between 1994 and 1997. No one has been executed in Nebraska since December 2, 1997.

None of those three men ‘volunteered’ for execution, by voluntarily dropping their appeals. Here in Pennsylvania, where we have a whopping 175 men and two women on death row, there have also been just three executions since 1976, two in 1995 and one in 1999, and all three men voluntarily dropped all of their appeals.

On January 14, 2015, outgoing Governor Tom Corbett (R-PA), signed the last four death warrants of his four-year term, for a total of 48 death warrants signed. Yet, despite having a Republican-controlled state legislature, and a tough-on-crime former Attorney General as Governor, and as much support for executing criminals as the political machinery of government could provide, not one single condemned man was executed. Current Governor Tom Wolf (D-PA) signed an executive order putting a moratorium on all executions in Pennsylvania pending a state Senate-ordered review of capital punishment, and the state Supreme Court upheld the Governor’s authority to grant the reprieves.

In Pennsylvania, the district attorneys use capital punishment as a political tool, to show how they are Tough On Crime, pressing death penalty cases for criminals they know will never be executed even if convicted and sentenced to death. It imposes serious additional costs to the state, not only for the numerous appeals which are granted, dragging out over decades, but also the special housing conditions for death row inmates. The death penalty in Pennsylvania is simply a way of saying that we think you are a really, really bad guy, and a way for prosecutors to score political points, but it isn’t anything which results in criminals actually being executed, and everyone involved in the system knows it.

Further down in the Journal article:

California has the largest death-row population in the country, with 743 inmates sentenced to die. But the state has put to death just 13 people since 1977; the last execution was 10 years ago.

Ron Briggs, a retired El Dorado County supervisor and a lifelong Republican, helped his father, a state senator, pass a proposition in 1978 that expanded the death penalty in California.

But Mr. Briggs now calls his early work “a terrible mistake,” and is campaigning to abolish it. He opposes it in part because of the price tag. California could save $150 million a year by eliminating the death penalty, due to the cost of extensive appeals and housing for inmates, the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Analyst Office estimated.

“We’re spending a $150 million a year on a government program that does nothing but enrich lawyers and protect criminals,” said Mr. Briggs.

Yup, that’s right: the system does not work, and really it cannot work, not unless we go back to taking condemned men outside and hanging them from an oak tree right after conviction.

For some Republicans, a new take on the death penalty has to do with religious convictions as well.

“The pro-life position never squared with the death-penalty position,” said Dan Parsons, a spokesman for the Nebraska campaign to end the death penalty and a Republican who previously supported the penalty.

The Catholic Church has been opposed to capital punishment for many years, the Church’s position being that while capital punishment is allowable for the defense of society, it should not be used when alternative methods of punishing murderers and protecting the public exist. That is my position as well: if you have a murderer in custody, and are able to execute him against his will, you have, by definition, reduced him to a position of helplessness, and thus there is no need to execute him.

Nationwide, there have been 17 executions so far in 2016. Seven of them were in Georgia, and another seven in Texas; Alabama, Florida and Missouri each executed one man. Not one single condemned man has been executed in the other 45 states this year. We appear to be far more pro-life when it comes to capital punishment than abortion!

Capital punishment has simply passed away from any point of usefulness: it is so infrequently applied, and so long delayed, that it has lost any deterrent value, if it ever had any in he first place. All that it is now is an additional drain on taxpayer dollars. It makes more sense to abolish it than to maintain it.
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Cross-posted on The First Street Journal.