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April 25, 2009

"Money, Morality, and Repealing the Death Penalty"

The title of this post is the title of this notable commentary on the PBS website.  Here is an excerpt from the middle of the piece:

For many death penalty opponents, New Mexico’s repeal was the result of years of hard work. The bill was first introduced 12 years ago, but it always faced challenges in the senate’s judiciary committee.  “It was heartbreaking,” says the Rev. Dr. Holly Beaumont, a Disciples of Christ minister and legislative advocate for the New Mexico Conference of Churches.  She represents the conference on the New Mexico Coalition to Repeal the Death Penalty.

Over the years faith-based death penalty opponents in New Mexico remained resolute, says Beaumont.  “We weren’t going away, and the legislature knew that we would be back again.”  She attributes their ultimate success to the multi-layered nature of the coalition, a collaboration of faith communities, the families of murder victims, Death Row exonerees, and other “people of conscience.”  The coalition focused on reaching and educating those who had not yet made up their minds about capital punishment and pointed its advocacy efforts directly at the Roundhouse, New Mexico’s state capitol building and the home of its legislature.

In addition to New Mexico, a number of other states around the country have been dealing with death penalty repeal this year.  A coalition of religious leaders, lawyers, and the families of murder victims is supporting passage of a pending bill to abolish the death penalty in Colorado, where this month the House of Representatives voted down capital punishment by a one-vote margin, and lawmakers say they will use the money saved (estimated at about $1.4 million per death penalty case) to solve hundreds of “cold” murder cases.  The Colorado bill now heads to the state Senate, where it is expected to pass.

New Hampshire and Kansas have also considered anti-death penalty legislation this year. In New Hampshire, the House voted to end capital punishment, but the governor has said he will veto any repeal. In Kansas, where repeal was advocated primarily as a way to save money, the effort stopped short of a vote and the issue is scheduled for more study.  According to the Wichita Eagle, each death penalty case costs an average of 70 percent more than each non-capital case. The paper also suggests that Kansans will be watching to see how nuanced the stand on capital punishment held by US Senator Sam Brownback, a Republican and a Methodist covert to Roman Catholicism, will be in his coming bid for governor.

April 25, 2009 at 09:07 AM | Permalink


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The death penalty is not the only correctional policy for which the punitive pendulum is swinging back due to costs. Plans for prison expansions and death row expansions are being killed, the marijuana legalization debate has been revived, some jurisdictions are making decisions to not prosecute certain crimes, and the reach of parole, at least in CA, is being diminished. I'm working on a piece that ties all these examples together, called Humonetarianism: The New Correctional Discourse of Scarcity.

While this discourse has some potential to mitigate otherwise punitive attitudes (though it is debated whether the public is really punitive at heart), it does have some serious drawbacks: its short-term approach, and its dehumanizing aspect.

Posted by: Hadar Aviram | Apr 25, 2009 9:44:41 AM

Dehumanization is a side effect of incarceration and of the death penalty. It sole valid purpose is incapacitation. It is not revenge. It is not punishment, nor rehabilitation. Incapacitation is the sole effective remedy in the criminal law.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Apr 25, 2009 11:56:28 AM

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