Death penalty versus LWOP

COMMENTARY BY:
ELIANA SAKS

Although Ariel Castro was not on death row, his recent suicide has again sparked debate on the death penalty and the need for its removal.

The most relevant reason to the general public that the death penalty should be eradicated is that taxpayers are paying millions of dollars when convicts receive the death penalty. There is almost always a plethora of appeals trials awarded to the prisoner based on his or her constitutional rights.

A 2011 study in California indicated that with the current death penalty system, taxpayers paid $4 billion more than those in states with life in prison without the possibility of parole (LWOP). Inmates in states with the death penalty are using the legal system to its greatest extent for his or her benefit with taxpayers’ dollars. Why would they pay for the legal fees themselves when the state will provide the money for free? From that point on, no matter the person’s income, those criminals will be living off the state for the rest of their lives.

That same study provided the following statistics: Prisoners on death row cost states $184 million more per year than prisoners on LWOP; a death penalty prosecution costs up to 20 times as much as an LWOP case; and a total of $72 million was spent on security alone for death row inmates in 2010.

Money aside, life in prison is a far more severe punishment than death. If criminals are killed, they do not suffer, and death could even be a relief to them. But having to spend your entire life in prison, knowing that you will never be free again and, in some cases, staying completely isolated is a more just and deserving punishment. The purpose of prison is to punish criminals. Simply killing them will not fulfill the system’s purpose.

Even before the conviction, the death penalty has negative effects. Those who are capable of murder and may disregard for their own lives may be prompted to kill with less restraint because they know they will receive the death penalty.

According to a new Michigan Law Review article, along with execution rates, more than 10 percent of felons on death row have withdrawn their right to appeal and agreed to the punishment. If these people have the desire and opportunity, the punishment of death could motivate even more murders.

According to the FBI’s “Crime In The United Sates,” murder rates in the past eight years have been as much as 43 percent higher in states with capital punishments compared to states without it. This further proves that the threat of death does nothing to deter these criminals.

Furthermore, the risk of executing an innocent person is too great a chance to be taken. Although it is not likely to happen, even one “mistake” would be one too many. There are currently 10 convicted murderers who were executed who also had strong cases of their innocence. These include Carlos DeLuna and Ruben Cantu in Texas. A man serving LWOP exonerated 20 years into his sentence can still be released and compensated, whereas a man killed and then discovered innocent cannot.

The bottom line of cost and uncertainty along with Ariel Castro’s turn to suicide makes the point that life in prison is a far worse punishment than the death penalty.

Contact the writer: eliana.saks@scranton.edu

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