Monday, 2 July 2012

Dealing Death

In my last blog I touched briefly on the subject of the death penalty. Now I'm guessing that those few of you who actually bother to read this have probably assumed that I am on the left wing of the political spectrum. This is in fact not true. I'm a pragmatist. If I believed that the war on drugs was a winnable and good for society, I would have no option but to support it I'm against it because there isn't a single measurable metric that indicates that it's a worthwhile endeavour. Equally if it could be shown that the death penalty had a single positive effect I would be forced to support it. It does not.

Those who support the death penalty site three primary arguments in favour of their position. I'll run through each of these in turn.

The primary argument put forward is that the death penalty acts as a deterrent. The evidence from this is at best inconclusive. The problem is that it's very difficult to gain a clear idea of the figures due to the fact that the only real-world testing ground is America. It's the only place where states with similar laws and social-economic factors but with different policies on capital punishment rub shoulders. Unfortunately every state in America is very much it's own barrel of parsnips. There are so many other variations that it's hard to see what might be causing variances in the crime rate. Even those studies that tend towards supporting the death penalty estimate each execution as saving roughly 18 lives. Even in execution happy Texas only clocks up 1 execution a month that's only 216 lives saved a year. Subtracting from that the twelve who you have to kill that's only 204 lives total saved. Texas has a population of 25,674,681 according to the latest census data. That's 0.000794557% of the population saved each year. Not strong support for a major policy decision. Add to that the opinion of Steven D. Levitt of Freakonomics fame that:

if you do back-of-the-envelope calculations, it becomes clear that no rational criminal should be deterred by the death penalty, since the punishment is too distant and too unlikely to merit much attention”

You've pretty knocked that argument on the head.

Second up is the the belief that it is significantly less costly to simply kill criminals than to imprison them. Well it's also cheaper to set up a Escape From New York style prison island and just drop in food once a week that doesn't mean it's a good idea. Leaving that idea, which is a fantastic idea until someone inside the manages to kidnap the presidents daughter, to one side lets examine the actual costs. It costs the same to keep someone in prison for twenty years whether they are on death row or not. Now the average life sentence doesn't extend much beyond 30 years. If you're imprisoned at the age of 30 by the age of 60 you're probably not considered much of a threat to society. So obviously your basic costs will be higher for the lifer than the dead-man-walking. However if you get life in prison you are probably going to settle with the verdict of your first appeal, especially if you are guilty. On the other hand even the most blatantly guilty will fight tooth and nail to overturn a death penalty the cost of all these appeals will amount to a small fortune much more than life in prison. Of course you can give them less appeals but then you've increased the chances of killing the innocent which in the long term will just undermine the authority of the justice system.

So the third and final argument I want to deal with is a simpler and more emotional one that is usually worded simply 'hanging's to good for them'. Now I'm not denying that some people deserve to be killed, but they mostly sit behind desks in suits. However it completely ignores the simple question of whether or not we deserve to kill. Stop focussing on how much paedophiles aka the mentally ill (if you don't think it's mentally ill to fuck kids... get help) deserve to die and focus on how much the state deserves to kill. Do you trust the government with the power over life and death? If you live in the modern world you either live in a developing nation with a horrifyingly corrupt government that is in cahoots with the military, business interests and the media to maintain a grasp on power. Or you live in a developed nation with a horrifyingly corrupt government that is in cahoots with the military, business interests and the media to maintain a grasp on power. Do you really believe that these fuckers would hesitate to kill an innocent man through negligence or malice. I don't. I find it concerning enough that these people control the economy to their own nefarious ends. Watch any science fiction movie that starts out with a system only slightly more corrupt than the one we live in and tell me what happens to outspoken critics of the government... Exactly! Don't give those fuckers anything close to that option.

eddie <death to death>

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