Are Executions Decreasing?
What with our recent embrace of torture and the like, it seems as though we are always moving backward lately. Sohere's
some welcome news:
Executions in the United States continued to decrease in 2010, with the 46 death sentences carried out representing a 12% drop from the year before, according to a report issued Tuesday.
The 2010 figure is just over half the 85 people executed a decade ago in 2000.
Meanwhile, 114 people were added to death rows around the country this year, just under half the number from 2000, said the report by the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC), a Washington-based group that opposes capital punishment.
While the issue of capital punishment can generate emotional political and public debate, the center's report suggested practical reasons for the decrease in executions.
The capital appeals process can be expensive, causing many lawmakers to re-examine the financial consequences of pursing death sentences in a weakened economy, according to the report. Illinois officials reported $100 million had been spent statewide in the past seven years on death penalty prosecutions, despite not executing anyone in 12 years.
"Whether it's concerns about the high costs of the death penalty at a time when budgets are being slashed, the risks of executing the innocent, unfairness, or other reasons, the nation continued to move away from the death penalty in 2010," said Richard Dieter, the center's executive director who wrote the report.
I suspect the knowledge that DNA has exonerated so many people who've been convicted of serious crimes is as responsible as anything. There aren't a lot of people who are comfortable with the idea of executing innocent people (although there are some who consider it collateral damage.)But however you feel about the death penalty on a philosophical or moral basis, it's clear that our legal system isn't capable of meting out the death penalty with fairness or justice, much less without error.
The Supreme Court has again scheduled arguments in coming months on a range of capital appeal issues, which apparently would please retired Justice John Paul Stevens, a powerful voice against the death penalty.
Stevens, who stepped down over the summer at age 90, wrote an essay this month in the New York Review of Books that lamented the continued use of capital punishment as "unwise and unjustified."
"The finality of an execution always ends that possibility" that death row inmates may repent and have a positive impact on society from behind bars, he wrote. "That finality also includes the risk that the state may put an actually innocent person to death."