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Death penalty: A pragmatic case for repeal

Momentum in the states is shifting toward the repeal of the death penalty. There are practical reasons for this: The death penalty is expensive, it does not work, and it is administered with a clear racial bias. Repealing it is a matter of justice, public safety, and effective governance.

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Kirk Bloodsworth, left, the first American sentenced to death row who was exonerated by DNA, and NAACP President Ben Jealous celebrate in the House gallery after the Maryland General Assembly approved the repeal of the death penalty in Annapolis, Md., March 15. Op-ed contributors Mr. Jealous and Gov. Martin O'Malley write: 'Most troubling is the very real possibility that an innocent person can be put to death.'

Patrick Semansky/AP/file

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Next month Maryland will become the sixth state in six years to abolish the death penalty. The Free State is the first state south of the Mason-Dixon Line to repeal capital punishment, and we believe that other states will soon follow.

There are practical reasons why momentum is steadily shifting toward repeal: The death penalty is expensive, it does not work, and it is administered with a clear racial bias. Repealing it is a matter of justice, a matter of public safety, and a matter of effective governance.

The death penalty does not make Americans stronger or more secure as a people, and it does not make our laws more just. One of the most jarring facts about our modern criminal justice system is that defendants accused of murdering white victims are significantly more likely to face a death sentence than those accused of killing non-white victims.

This was certainly true in Maryland. A 2003 study showed that defendants charged with killing a white victim were significantly more likely to receive a death sentence. In Delaware, recent research revealed that 73 percent of death-row cases since 1972 involved a white victim. This data helped bolster efforts to pass the repeal bill in the Delaware state Senate last month.

The death penalty is also an ineffective deterrent. In 2011, the average murder rate in states with the death penalty, weighted for population, was 4.9 per 100,000 people. In states without it, the weighted murder rate was 4.1 per 100,000 people.

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