During the week of September 21st, three people were executed in the United States. Two of the executions were extensively covered in the media, for different reasons. The Troy Davis case drew a lot of attention because Davis had been claiming for years he was innocent, and his execution date has been rescheduled four times due to court proceedings before his last stay was denied, and he was executed on September 21st. His case drew international attention because of the involvement of public figures and prominent groups, such as Jimmy Carter, Pope Benedict XVI and Amnesty International, who called for a review of his case. His case has led to the reigniting of debates about the existence of capital punishment in the United States.
The other case, a man named Lawrence Brewer, was publicized after it led to politicians in Texas calling a halt to prisoner’s last meals before they are executed. The officials said it was because inmates were abusing the system, asking for large amounts of food, and then not eating it, as in the case of Brewer. Texas has carried out more executions than any other state every year since the death penalty was reinstated, executing 475 people since 1976.
However, some states are choosing to take a different route. A poll taken recently showed that 48% percent of California voters would rather someone get life without parole than the death sentence. Eleven years ago, only 37% of California voters said they would favor life without parole over the death sentence. These numbers reflect a shift in the attitude towards the death penalty that has been happening nationwide.
Recent studies in California have shown that it costs taxpayers more to maintain the death penalty than to imprison inmates for life. A 2008 study in California found that it costs $90,000 more a year for inmates on death row as compared to other inmates. Another 2008 study conducted in California showed that at the time, there were 670 inmates on death row, incurring costs of around $63.3 million annually. A 2008 ACLU report in California found that death penalty trials in California have cost as much $10.9 million dollars.
The costs associated with capital cases are not only the costs of the actual execution, but the costs involved during the steps of the court processes. With appeals, the process can go on for years. There has to be two trials, one for determination of guilt, and one for sentencing. Every step of the process takes longer and requires more resources. The costs for processing evidence are often high due to the type of evidence, often DNA. Typically there are more attorneys involved and the cases are much more complex and lengthy.
Opponents of the death penalty have spoken out recently in interview and editorials, calling it unconstitutional, arbitrarily applied, and racially biased. An example can be found here. 16 states and the District of Columbia have banned the death penalty, and 34 states allow it, as well as the U.S. government and the military. Within the 34 states that have it, 17 of them have not executed anyone in 2010 or 2011. Since 1976, 15 states and the U.S. government have executed under 10 people each. The South accounts for around 80% of executions, and also has the highest murder rates, which may suggest that the application of the death penalty does not serve as an effective deterrent to murder or other violent crimes.
A fact sheet on the Death Penalty Information Center website states that since 1973, 130 inmates who were on death row were released after being found innocent after more evidence came to light in their cases. This is a shockingly high number. If this many people were released, how many more are sitting on death row, or in prison who are innocent? In many cases, it was due to DNA evidence that there was not technology to analyze at the time of their conviction. On September 22nd, two men in North Carolina were exonerated of murder charges and freed from prison. Their release, after a decade in prison, came because of new evidence, including a confession from someone else and DNA evidence that implicated other suspects.
For more information and statistics on the death penalty go here
For more information of causes of wrongful imprisonment and exoneration go here
For more information on cost of the death penalty go here
Read more about the Troy Davis case