Death Penalty is wrong, impractical

You know we’re living in a crazy world when the only thing that can make war-devastated people celebrate in the streets is news that another person is going to die. But this was the case a few weeks ago in Iraq, when it was announced that Saddam Hussein was to die by hanging. The public reaction to this decision was fascinating to me, as there seemed to be no prominent voices questioning whether or not it was prudent to punish a murderer by murdering him. This is a question that needs to be addressed by the global community. In today’s world, where the deaths of a few can provoke the wrath of millions, the arguments for capital punishment appear weaker and weaker. Proponents of the death penalty traditionally say that such a drastic measure will serve to discourage others from committing the same crimes, but the number of prisoners under sentence of death in the United States has risen from 131 in 1953 to 3,314 in 2004. These numbers clearly do not suggest a drop in crime. The financial costs of the death penalty are just as ludicrous. First, the average death penalty trial costs 48% more than the cost of trials in which prosecutors attempt to secure life imprisonment. In New Jersey, for example, the death penalty has cost taxpayers $253 million to date. This questions of effectiveness and cost-efficiency are important, but more pressing is the moral justification. An often-accepted rule of thumb is the eye for an eye rule—it is only okay to execute people if they’re killers or perhaps rapists themselves. However, several state capital punishment laws do not correspond with this rule. In California and Georgia, one can be executed for treason, in Florida you can die for capital drug trafficking, and don’t even think about getting involved in narcotics conspiring in New Jersey. I’d like to know what the moral justification for these laws is. Of course, this whole argument becomes irrelevant if you’re like me and believe that killing under any circumstance is inherently immoral. Anyone worried about the United States’ world image should take a close look at the prevalence of executions in our country. During 2005, at least 2,148 people were executed worldwide; of these executions, 94% took place in China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the United States. This does not imply a strong sense of national integrity, and regardless of political affiliation, one must admit that this is something the United States desperately needs. Fortunately, we Iowans live in a state where capital punishment is currently illegal. “We do have a death sentence in Iowa and that’s life in prison without parole,” governor Tom Vilsack said. Vilsack’s point is very valid: if a person is truly a grave danger to society, than that danger is just as effectively neutralized in a cell as in a grave. However, this logical and ethical approach to justice may be in danger, as governor-elect Chet Culver has said that he supports the death penalty for terrorists and people convicted of killing police and children. I agree that these people should be harshly punished for their actions, but I’d like to know how their executions would make the world a better place. I’m glad that Mr. Hussein is receiving punishment for the crimes he has committed, but I mourn his death as much as I would any civilian casualty. The death penalty is inhumane and ineffective, and its legality is contrary to anything resembling justice. If the world is to recognize that killing is wrong, maybe making it illegal is a good place to start.