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The student newspaper of, by, and for Ames High School.

The WEB

The student newspaper of, by, and for Ames High School.

The WEB

Death penalty inhumane, un-American

A bill proposing reinstating the death penalty in Iowa has brought the issue of capital punishment to the forefront of public debate. While the bill was never thought to have a chance at becoming law, it has sparked debate over the merits of the death penalty. A similar debate is currently taking place in the Washington State Supreme Court, where an elimination of the state’s death penalty is being considered. Across the country, this is a time to carefully reconsider the death penalty. The very principle behind the death penalty goes against our country’s most basic ideals. The idea of sentencing someone to death goes against the beliefs upon which our nation was founded. As Iowa Representative Kurt Swaim said, “The issue for me is what it does to us as a society—if we serve as the executioner.” The death penalty turns the legal system into an execution system, and that’s not American. America was created to provide a unique democracy far from the injustices of the monarchy. Our new ideas for a nation established us as visionaries for the future, but in clinging to capital punishment, we are being left behind. Right now, the only western countries that still have the death penalty are the United States, Guatemala, and most of the Caribbean. All major European industrialized countries have already abolished the practice and have condemned it as a cruel and inhumane way to deal with crime. Supporters of the death penalty who maintain that it is the only way to adequately punish criminals who commit especially atrocious crimes need to think twice about how the accused are affected by the punishment. Is it really better to cut short a criminal’s time in captivity? Would it not be fairer to force the perpetrator to have to live with his or her crime? Surely we can all agree that time in prison is supposed to be a harsh punishment that cuts off criminals from society and forces them to live day in and day out with the consequences of their actions. The death penalty essentially shortens the court’s sentence and allows the perpetrator to escape the full effects of the crimes committed. In this way, the death penalty effectively undermines the very underpinnings of our justice system. Another method of dealing with serious criminals, one that does not go against the legal system, is to have stronger reinforcement of prison sentences. Many people point to prison escapes like the April 5 escape of Robert Stanley from a Des Moines work-release facility; we need to work to prevent breaches of security that could lead to escapes. Instead of concentrating on fighting over a law that is outdated and unjust, we should focus our attentions on providing more resources for prisons to maintain security and order. While the death penalty itself is an enormous issue, the problem with the penalty comes up after we assume justice has been served and the guilty have been convicted. But what happens when an innocent person is sentenced to die? This is a real and relevant question right now. Just recently, former North Carolina county prosecutor Scott Brewer was accused of withholding evidence that could have resulted in a different sentence that would not have involved the death penalty. The evidence was from the sole eyewitness of a crime the defendant allegedly committed. When one piece of evidence, one testimony, or one witness can mean the difference between life and death, it is absolutely crucial that justice is carried out. Unfortunately, we have to face the reality that the very people whose job it is to protect us can stand in the way of justice. There are far too many opportunities for the truth to be obscured. When such uncertainty can never be eliminated from the system, it is not right to have the possibility of an innocent person being killed. While Iowa seems to have dodged the death penalty this time, it will not be long before this issue comes up again, either in the state or the national arena. The death penalty should not be in place because there are other alternatives that we have not pursued that are not as un-American, unjust, and unreliable as capital punishment.

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