The Death Penalty

 I struggle with the idea of the death penalty. I think it’s both good and bad for a “civilized” (I use that word all the time, though I admit what is ‘civilized’ really?) society to have one. The idea of it makes sense but in practice…

            Then I was younger I was all for it. I don’t know how much that made me like other kids or not because I never talked to other kids about it. Executions weren’t a topic that came up on the playground often. Back then I thought it was a waste of public resources to keep murderers and rapists alive in prison if they were given life sentences. If they were convicted young the state might have to take care of them for decades. Also given the state of prisons in America I figured a swift death would be better than life in a hell hole. 

death row

            My rules were simple, naively simple. I believed if you were found guilty of murder or violent rape and deemed unfit to ever rejoin society again then rather than life in prison you would be taken to the executioner’s chair and terminated post-haste. No lawyer and appeals to stretch the death row process out, just a quick death. I was a little cold, perhaps.
            Now I feel differently. Back then I had faith in the justice system. That faith has since eroded to cynical skepticism. I now question the justice system’s ability to get the right person and judge them fairly. You see, my previous view of the death penalty hinged on two important conditions being true: The convicted party was guilty, and they didn’t deserve a second chance in society. I’ve seen many people on death row being interviewed and while I know criminals can lie and put on an act to make themselves look good, I’m not convinced both of those conditions are met in all instances. You could say my understanding of human nature has matured.
            So, does that mean I am against the death penalty 100%? Hell no! I have just softened position. Now I think It should be reserved for very particular situations. The person would have to be responsible for more than one murder or violent rape. The evidence against them would have to be overwhelming, be it any combination of a willingly given confession, DNA, crime scene video, eye-witness accounts, fingerprints, etc. Finally, they would have to show no remorse for what they did. Given these conditions very few people would be executed. That’s the plan. I think the death penalty should be a rarely used tool in the justice system’s belt. 

In much of the world the Death Penalty is rarely used

            If I had my way every single person currently sitting on death row would have their cases re-evaluated. If they did not fit into the situations listed above then they would be moved into the regular prison population. The only people left on death row would be the worst of the worst. 
            I understand some people may say that the death penalty is archaic and has no place in modern society. This isn’t the middle ages, after all. I would say they are probably correct and my stance may evolve again. As I said before I struggle with the idea of the death penalty. War is archaic as well and has no place in modern society, but we still drop bombs in the name of what’s supposedly “right”. People cheer when an ISIS base is bombed or some terrorist leader is killed. Those people are fighting for something. It may be antithetical to our ideals, but they believe in it. Is a death sentence for them better than a death sentence for a man who violently raped and murdered 4 women and in court showed no remorse? Is it somehow right to kill someone who’s uneducated, from a village in the desert with little opportunity, brainwashed by an extremist cleric to fight the West and not kill a serial killer?
            I don’t know. But I do know that human beings have always felt there were situations where taking a life is justified. Where society chooses to draw the line is a matter that should be debated. We should never be Ok with taking a life, any life. It should be a hard decision, but I feel it should be a decision we make from time to time. A modern society has the means to care for violent criminals until they die but should ask the question: Should we care for a serial killer or should those resources go to care for other inmates who can reenter society?
            The death penalty might satisfy that little part in all of us that longs for revenge, that likes to see karma dished out, an eye for an eye. Many countries around the world have moved past being at the mercy of that vengeful part. America hasn’t and neither have I. Maybe one day. It’s not so important for me because no one is being executed at my command, but I hope the states that allow the death penalty (there are 32) think long and hard about how it is being implemented and who they are sending to the ‘chair’.   


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