Death Penalty Foes Should Cut the Appeals to Human Dignity

They'd have better luck portraying it as a big-government failure: Daniel LaChance
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 9, 2014 12:36 PM CDT
Death Penalty Foes Should Cut the Appeals to Human Dignity
This photo shows "Old Sparky," the decommissioned electric chair in which 361 prisoners in Texas were executed between 1924 and 1964, on display at the Texas Prison Museum in Huntsville, Texas.   (AP Photo/Houston Chronicle, Michael Paulsen)

Support for the death penalty is declining in the US, but it doesn't have much to do with botched executions or moral outrage, writes Daniel LaChance in the New York Times. Nope, it's mostly because the death penalty just isn't what it used to be: Executions often take place decades after the crime—as opposed to say, 1959, when inmates were typically put to death within two years—and that mutes any sense that justice has been swiftly delivered. Plus, they cost taxpayers a fortune, thanks to increased federal oversight mandated by the Supreme Court in the 1970s.

The problem is only getting worse, and the reason is money. Taxpayers foot the bill for the appeals of indigent inmates, and there aren't enough lawyers willing to do the work for the relatively low wages. Thus the backlog grows. "It has simply become unsustainable to be both pro-death penalty and anti-taxation, as so many Americans are," writes LaChance. Opponents to the death penalty might keep that in mind as they wage ballot initiatives, he suggests. Appealing to Americans' "humanistic ideals" probably isn't going to work. But appealing to their "distrust of government"—and portraying capital punishment "as another failed government program just might." Click for the full column. (More death penalty stories.)

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