« Drug courts come to federal system (and New York Times' front page) | Main | "Constitutional Line Drawing at the Intersection of Childhood and Crime" »

March 4, 2013

"The left’s austerity strategy for the death penalty"

The title of this post is the headline of this new MSNBC piece, which reports on a segment that ran on that network yesterday. Here are highlights:

In an age when trimming budgets and reducing deficits has become politically popular, some liberals are brewing a new strategy on old issues.  Democrats and left-leaning groups are increasingly trying to use austerity arguments to pass their progressive agendas.

Maryland’s Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley has long sought to have the death penalty abolished in his state.  As a Roman Catholic, he has used a moral argument against the death penalty in the past.  But now he is emphasizing the financial benefits of making the maximum sentence a life in prison without parole...

Rather than funnel all of their focus into moral and social arguments, the bill’s supporters have been making their point partly in economic terms.  The cost of prosecuting a death row case in Maryland can be as much as three times what it costs for a case seeking a life sentence without parole.

A study by the Urban Institute in 2008 found that the average cost to taxpayers for one death sentence was $3 million, about $1.9 million more than it cost for a case when the death penalty wasn’t sought.  These numbers include the criminal investigation, trial costs, appeals, and incarceration....

For elected officials who can’t be tough enough on crime, NYU law professor Bryan Stevenson said, “you need a narrative that allows people to retreat from that and cost is just a very effective one.”

On Sunday’s Up with Chris Hayes, Stevenson also addressed the fears of many voters that abolishing capital punishment could lead to a higher crime rate, explaining that the economic arguments could also benefit public safety:

“Maryland’s bill actually will give money and resources to the families of people who’ve lost loved ones.  California’s bill was actually directly aimed at helping to solve the 34% of homicides that aren’t resolved in an arrest, 46% of rapes that aren’t resolved in an arrest, mostly in poor and minority communities.  I think if you’re concerned about public safety, these economic arguments actually make links that we have to make.”

If it passes, Maryland will be the sixth state in six years to abolish the death penalty, after New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Illinois, and Connecticut....

While they acknowledged the financial advantages, the Up with Chris Hayes panelists emphasized that decades of talking about the death penalty’s moral and social implications cannot be ignored.

“If the economic argument is the one that tips the scales, then I need not worry that we haven’t couched the debate enough in moral terms,” said Mattea Kramer of the National Priorities Project.  “You keep your eyes on the prize.” Stevenson added, “I don’t actually think that the economic arguments would be effective today if we hadn’t shown over the last 15 years that we’re putting a lot of innocent people on death row.”

March 4, 2013 at 10:12 AM | Permalink

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d83451574769e2017ee8ed7f80970d

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference "The left’s austerity strategy for the death penalty":

Comments

\\ "Maryland’s Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley has long sought to have the death penalty abolished in his state." \\

Why doesn't the governor try to convince his fellow citizens?
Why can he not prevail by means of the force of his logic?

""Which view is closer to your own, that Maryland law should allow for the death penalty
or should the death penalty be abolished & replaced with life in prison with no chance of parole?" {Wapo, 2/26/13}

allow the death penalty = 60%
LWOP/abolish the death =36%

Posted by: Adamakis | Mar 4, 2013 1:56:14 PM

17 states do not have the death penalty sentence,
33 states do have the death penalty...

0 states have eliminated the death penalty sentence *by a vote of their respective citizenry*.

What happened to Democracy, liberals? Where is the rule of law, socialists? Due process, progressives?

Progressivism = end-justifies-the-means situational morality?

Posted by: Adamakis | Mar 4, 2013 2:10:13 PM

note to self: Adamkis opposes representative democracy, would like to tear up federal and most state constitutions and institute rule by plebiscite. keep this in mind when judging the reasonableness of his opinions in general.

Posted by: anon | Mar 4, 2013 3:31:36 PM

I'm not a lawyer, just a scientist.

This cost argument has to be the weakest and lamest objection to the death penalty.

What's surprising to me is the lack of a conservative and law-and-order voice against capital punishment as destructive and debilitating to justice and rule of law.

How does the death penalty damage justice? Here are a few reasons off the top of my head: (1) Killers made out to be celebrities and martyrs. (2) The travesty of "death qualified" juries. (3) Killers and their attorneys yanking the chain of judges with perpetual appeals. (4) Penalty phase proceedings focusing on the defendant's background rather than the heinousness of the crime. (5) The bloodlust and voyeurism encouraged by the press over capital cases.

The huge expense, as well as all these other factors, could be easily justified if executions actually deterred killers. But the evidence for that is pretty slim, and not persuasive from what I've seen.

Posted by: Boffin | Mar 4, 2013 4:02:59 PM

Boffin,

You make good points. The thing is, the media is not the only actor benefiting from bloodlust/voyeurism/sensationalism. A lot of elected officials raise tons of money and votes scaring the public with the details of heinous crimes and implying that their grandstanding and wasting of resources on the death penalty will keep the public safer. In fact, of course, the opposite is probably true (because those resources and energy are not being directed somewhere they could actually be effective, like more patrols, computer analysis of crime patterns, etc.). In that way, the death penalty is similar to the ever expanding sex offender surveillance schemes that local cops and sheriffs hate but legislators can't seem to get enough of.

Posted by: anon | Mar 4, 2013 4:18:13 PM

Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) [though sworn to "support the Constitution and Laws" of Maryland and the United States], said yesterday that he will do…

=-= ""everything in [his] power" to abolish capital punishment in Maryland";
=-= though "the law remains on the books", since 2007, "O'Malley has declined to issue new regulations allowing executions
to resume.";
=-= "...both sides agree that O’Malley (D) is all but certain to [refuse to] presid[e] over a single execution" (ed.).

note to "anon": executive tyranny is equivalent to representative democracy in the minds of intellectual plebiscites.

{see http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d83451574769e2017ee59f0cac970d}

Posted by: Adamakis | Mar 4, 2013 4:25:00 PM

:: "Boffin"::

A few benefits of the Death Penalty materialised last month or so:

February 26, 2013
PA Inmate Kills Prison Guard: Michael Rubinkam of the Associated Press reports that Correctional Officer Eric Williams, 34, was killed by an inmate Monday at Pennsylvania's Canaan Federal Penitentiary. The unnamed inmate stabbed him multiple times using a homemade weapon. Williams was pronounced dead at a hospital at 11:30 p.m.

February 22, 2013
CA Killer Put on Death Row For 2nd Inmate Murder: Jennie Rodriguez-Moore of the Record reports that John Joseph Lydon, convicted of killing two inmates while serving a sentence for a robbery/murder, has been sentenced to death. Lydon joins approximately 725 other inmates on death row in California where no executions have been carried out since 2006.

February 6, 2013
GA Execution Dates Set After Drug Switch Approved: Russ Bynum of the Associated Press reports that after numerous delays, Georgia officials have set execution dates for Warren Lee Hill, 52, and Andrew Allen Cook, 38. …While serving a life term for the 1985 murder of Myra Wright, Hill bludgeoned inmate Joseph Handspike to death with a nail-studded board.

February 5, 2013
NEW YORK (AP) -- Federal prosecutors say a bureau of prisons guard is pregnant after an affair with a man convicted in one of New York's most notorious police killings. Nancy Gonzalez was arrested Tuesday…the prisoner is Ronell Wilson

January 22, 2013
CA Inmate Kills Cellmate: Chelcey Adami of the Imperial Valley Press reports an inmate at the Calipatria State Prison was killed by his cellmate Monday. His cellmate slashed him in the neck with that prison staff believe was a razor blade from a
disposable razor.

Posted by: Adamakis | Mar 4, 2013 4:38:23 PM

Adamakis,

Your examples strike me more as indicative of a lack of order and discipline in prisons. And I notice all of them happened to be in jurisdictions with capital punishment!

Of course you can argue that if we just killed 'em faster and harder, then they wouldn't misbehave. But as a practical and realistic matter, that's not going to happen.

Resorting to Willie Hortonism, rather than reason and analysis, seems like a pretty weak approach for a legal scholar.

Posted by: Boffin | Mar 4, 2013 5:14:44 PM

:: "Boffin":: “Of course you can argue that if we just killed 'em faster…”

Do examples hold any probative value for you, man of science, or do you similarly cling to a dim hope that Redi & Pasteur’s biogenetic findings are moot?

I. For the murderer, swift execution would *practically/realistically* & actually “deprive him of any power to do mischief”
in the words of Blackstone, and save lives yearly, as shown above.

Obfuscators such as Kitzhaber, Chafee, O’Malley--and those who buttress them and their cause—are currently employing “interminable efforts of delay” and ludicrous non-probative distractions which have the *practical effect (among many) of granting killers the latitude to destroy more lives.(129 S. Ct. 1299)

II.
May I presume that you’re neither inclined to defend the parole of Willie Horton nor the failed policy—subsequently revoked--which enabled it?

Posted by: Adamakis | Mar 4, 2013 6:47:14 PM

anon --

"Adamkis opposes representative democracy, would like to tear up federal and most state constitutions and institute rule by plebiscite. keep this in mind when judging the reasonableness of his opinions in general."

I take it, then, that you opposed the Colorado and Washington plebiscites that approved recreational pot (thus overruling the prior law adopted by the state legislature), and the California plebiscite in 1996 approving "medical" marijuana (which likewise overruled law previously adopted by the state legislature).

Is that correct? Do you disapprove those plebiscites? If so, why didn't you say so at the time?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Mar 4, 2013 7:32:59 PM

@anon
If you can't argue a point intelligently, just make stuff up.

Posted by: MikeinCT | Mar 4, 2013 7:33:14 PM

Boffin --

What punishment do you propose for inmates already serving LWOP who murder a guard, cellmate, infirmary worker, etc., in prison? Another LWOP sentence is of course meaningless. What, then?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Mar 4, 2013 7:38:22 PM

anon --

"The thing is, the media is not the only actor benefiting from bloodlust/voyeurism/sensationalism. A lot of elected officials raise tons of money and votes scaring the public with the details of heinous crimes and implying that their grandstanding and wasting of resources on the death penalty will keep the public safer."

Actually, neither the death penalty nor any crime issue was on the national radar screen whatever in the last election. Can you cite a single politician in that election who even significantly mentioned the DP, much less "scared the public"? Would you please provide, not just the politician's name, but a link to his ads so we can see for ourselves?

Oh, while we're at it, a big majority of studies show that the DP has a deterrent effect.

"In fact, of course, the opposite is probably true (because those resources and energy are not being directed somewhere they could actually be effective, like more patrols, computer analysis of crime patterns, etc.)."

Yes, that's it. That's why, in the era of the modern death penalty (say, the last 20 years) the murder rate has dropped by half. Obviously, this shows that the death penalty INCREASES murder.

Right!!!

"In that way, the death penalty is similar to the ever expanding sex offender surveillance schemes that local cops and sheriffs hate but legislators can't seem to get enough of."

I'm just sure you're the annointed spokesman for cops and sheriffs -- the spokesman, that is, for those rare moments when you're not calling them fascist pigs.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Mar 4, 2013 7:50:04 PM

@Boffin
Greater security is no guarantee unfortunately, as murders at the ADX supermax prison prove.

Posted by: MikeinCT | Mar 4, 2013 7:57:14 PM

Adamakis --

Would you kindly stop annoying our Very Enlightened Commenters with all these facts and specifics? I mean, PLEASE. Look, wise up and just sing "Give Peach A Chance." That'll do it.

Thanks so much!

Posted by: Bill Otis | Mar 4, 2013 8:01:50 PM

//"What's surprising to me is the lack of a conservative and law-and-order voice against capital punishment as *destructive and debilitating to justice and rule of law*."//

B. Otis,
Unfortunately I do oft-times annoy friend & foe alike, much to my discredit.
May the truth of our words strike a resounding chord with an element of the audience, and may our effort ever be as genuine and accurate, as the expression above is disingenuous and slanderous.

Posted by: Adamakis | Mar 4, 2013 9:08:45 PM

TRUTH = Anti death penalty failure

Fact checking WOULD be the undoing of all anti death penalty efforts, IF the media participated.

As the media pushes these anti death penalty frauds, as opposed to uncovering them, it's a very tough road for the TRUTH.

The Maryland cost study, as many others, is bogus.

Please FACT CHECK

1) Death Penalty Costs: Maryland
http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/2012/05/maryland-cost-study-problems-urban.html

Saving Costs with The Death Penalty
http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/2013/02/death-penalty-cost-saving-money.html

2) INNOCENCE

There is no credible case, ever, of an innocent executed in Maryland.

Nationally, possibly, 0.4% of those sentneced to death have been actually innocent, all of those have been released upon appeal.

Based upon those two issues, is there a more accurate sanction in the world? Maybe not.

The 130 (now 142) death row "innocents" scam
http://homicidesurvivors.com/2009/03/04/fact-checking-issues-on-innocence-and-the-death-penalty.aspx

3) THE DEATH PENALTY: A GRETER PROTECTOR OF THE INNOCENT

1) The Death Penalty: Saving More Innocent Lives
http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/2012/03/death-penalty-saving-more-innocent.html

2) Innocents More At Risk Without Death Penalty
http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/2012/03/innocents-more-at-risk-without-death.html

3) LIFE: MUCH PREFERRED OVER EXECUTION
99.7% of murderers tell us "Give me life, not execution"
http://prodpinnc.blogspot.com/2012/11/life-much-preferred-over-execution.html

4) GOVERNANCE

Had O'Malley et al road blocked abortions or welfare, what would the media be doing?

No one has any doubt.

Posted by: Dudley Sharp | Mar 5, 2013 6:58:45 AM

Although I'm a so called "hard core abolitionist" I have to say that the whole "money discussion" is nothing else than a distraction. Let's assume the death penalty is abolished because of the financial benefits. What if the financial situation is getting better? The logical consequence is the reintroduction of the death penalty.

In the discussion pro/contra death penalty nothing else than the death penalty istself has to be the topic.

Joachim

Posted by: Joachim | Mar 5, 2013 7:00:52 AM

Boffin stated: "I'm not a lawyer, just a scientist."

The problem is that you then go on a diatribe that is completely unscientific.

You stated: "This cost argument has to be the weakest and lamest objection to the death penalty."

It is definitely weak and lame but so are the ones you bring up. For example:

You stated: "What's surprising to me is the lack of a conservative and law-and-order voice against capital punishment as destructive and debilitating to justice and rule of law."

This is an entirely unsubstantiated opinion, completely bereft of any "scientific" data.

You stated: "How does the death penalty damage justice? Here are a few reasons off the top of my head: (1) Killers made out to be celebrities and martyrs."

Really? Do a "jaywalking" (a la Jay Leno) scene on the street and ask the random citizen to name even one executed murderer out of the last ten. You will get nothing but crickets. In fact, most could not name a single individual executed (via the capital punishment system)in the last ten years. They go down the wormhole into oblivion, not martyrdom.

You stated: "(2) The travesty of "death qualified" juries."

Again, a "scientist" would back up such a statement with you know, actual data. That it is a "travesty" is nothing but unsubstantiated opinion.

You stated: "(3) Killers and their attorneys yanking the chain of judges with perpetual appeals."

And a "scientist" would see abolishing capital punishment as the only possible solution to this problem? LOL

You stated: "(4) Penalty phase proceedings focusing on the defendant's background rather than the heinousness of the crime."

Not sure of your point here. The killer's background is brought up as much for mitigation as anything else. Again, you do not even give a REASON why this is "debilitating to justice and the rule of law". I suspect giving actual evidence that it is is asking way too much from you.

You stated: "(5) The bloodlust and voyeurism encouraged by the press over capital cases."

Again, evidence? The ones running to the press and getting them involved is usually the defense attorneys.

You stated: "The huge expense, as well as all these other factors, could be easily justified if executions actually deterred killers. But the evidence for that is pretty slim, and not persuasive from what I've seen."

There are many "scientific" studies showing a deterrence factor, but in a completely unscientific fashion, you obviously either did not read them or did so with an unscientific bias.

Just from reading your post, my guess is that your "scientific" background is limited to the social "sciences" and not any actual hard science.

Posted by: TarlsQtr1 | Mar 5, 2013 9:09:53 AM

For those with strong opinions either way, money is not going to convince them on the death penalty, probably. But, for those not as invested, money might influence them, especially given it has a neutral flavor. The death penalty is expensive and especially if the state nearly never actually executes, it might be seen as not worth it for certain people. For those who deem it morally or practically necessary, the money will be worth it.

How do states and nations without a death penalty deal with murder in prison and so forth? What do we do when the people involved are found insane?

Posted by: Joe | Mar 5, 2013 11:18:05 AM

TarlsQtr1, Adamakis, Dudley --

Note that Boffin and anon are strident, right up until they get asked some questions or confronted with some facts, at which point they take a powder.

My goodness. Those questions and facts are really pesky things, now aren't they?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Mar 5, 2013 2:36:41 PM

Hi Bill,

Rule number one of liberalism is that you are not supposed to question your "betters." It is no coincidence that totalitarianism is a leftist ideology (although they will ridiculously try to convince you that National SOCIALISM is "right wing." )

You are being cold-hearted though. At least give them time to wrestle with their grief, perhaps a few days. They are obviously in mourning. It was a tough day yesterday. Hugo is gone and I hear that Che is still dead.

Posted by: Tarlsqtr1 | Mar 6, 2013 9:55:55 AM

TarlsQtr1 --

"You are being cold-hearted though."

The least of my sins.

Did you catch Jimmy Carter's statement on the death of his good friend, Hugo? You really have to see it to believe it, and you probably won't believe it then either.

I wonder if Boffin and anon have left off a teddy bear at the gate of the Venezualan embassy.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Mar 6, 2013 10:14:02 AM

Carter is a dangerous fool.

I have a special disdain for Chavez, as I spent much of my summer of 1988 in Venezuela. Although there were hints of anti-American feelings there, it was a beautiful country with a warm people. To see people praise this thug that turned the country into an armpit (despite being the fourth largest oil producer) sickens me.

Posted by: TarlsQtr1 | Mar 6, 2013 11:53:00 AM

What you expect Tarls! he's had 2 decades to reprogram the children. Hell just look at the dumbing down of America thanks to our public school system. It's went the same way.

Posted by: rodsmith | Mar 6, 2013 10:02:32 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB