Why conservatives should be concerned about the death penalty

Death row inmate and convicted double murderer Joseph Rudolph Wood writhed on the floor, choking and snorting for an hour and half, after being administered a lethal cocktail of drugs that didn’t work as planned on Wednesday.

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Botched executions like this one in a Ohio and Oklahoma also made national news.

Some believe Wood’s case is an opportunity to discuss whether we need the death penalty anymore.

Mark Hyden, the national coordinator for the group Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty (CCATDP), isn’t convinced that we do need it. Here are his reasons:

  • There is always the risk of executing an innocent person
  • Death penalty cases are far more expensive
  • It fails as a deterrent
  • It turns the guilty party into a household name, while the victims are forgotten
  • Incompetent governance is shrouding methods in secrecy

Hyden released the following statement on Wood’s case:

After last night’s botched execution in Arizona and the national spate of executions marred by mistakes, it appears that the government cannot execute someone without committing serious errors. This is a perfect example of why an inherently fallible system run by human beings must be limited especially when the system is veiled in secrecy. The execution in Arizona, much like many botched executions predating it, was problematic from early on, including secretly obtained drugs and untested, experimental protocols. Conservatives are right to be wary of a government acting in secrecy, which may well be covering up its own mistakes and abuse. This is not the transparent government that we demand.

Hyden has problems with giving government the legal authority to administer the death penalty, particularly when transparency and competency is lacking.

“If you can’t trust the government about healthcare, how can we trust it with the death penalty?” Hyden asked in an interview with Rare. “To accept the death penalty you need to say what kind of collateral damage you’re willing to accept.”

Hyden noted that over 140 people have been released from death row since 1973 after being found wrongfully accused.

Life in prison without parole is cheaper, there’s no risk of the state executing an innocent person, sitting in a jail cell for life is arguably as much a deterrent as the death penalty and our modern prison system is secure enough that these inmates won’t become a risk to society.

Hyden isn’t alone in noting the basic impracticality of capital punishment.

Pope St. John Paul II addressed the death penalty in his encyclical Evangelium Vitae and pointed to prison security as a reason why we don’t need it.

“The nature and extent of the punishment must be carefully evaluated and decided upon, and ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity,” he wrote. “In other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent.”

“Modern society,” he continued, “in fact has the means of effectively suppressing crime by rendering criminals harmless without definitively denying them the chance to reform.”

Note that the late pope didn’t condemn the practice always and everywhere, but did highlight the graveness of the matter — potential collateral damage and the destruction of a life, however guilty of heinous crimes. He urged that the death penalty be carried out after careful evaluation, which didn’t seem to be the case in Ohio, Oklahoma or Arizona for the reasons Marc Hyden pointed out in his statement.

This grave finality of capital punishment inspired William Blackstone to write in his Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765) that, “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than one innocent suffer.”

The desire for justice is natural and those robbed of family members by cold blooded murderers like Joseph Wood understandably have every right to want the maximum penalty. But justice is done to render what is deserved, as well as to protect society from further harm.

That can now be done without racking up huge debts or risking innocent lives.

What do you think?

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