Fighting Crime Without the Death Penalty

“Bizarre.”

This was the answer given by Former Detective Superintendent Bob Denmark of Lancashire, England when asked what people in the UK thought about the execution of Teresa Lewis. “[People] are no safer now than we were before her death,” added Ronald Hampton, a former D.C. Metropolitan Police Department Community Relations Officer and past Executive Director of the National Black Police Association.

Denmark, who has investigated over 100 homicides in the U.K. as well as genocide in Africa, and Hampton were joined by Police Chief James Abbott of West Orange, New Jersey and Senior Portuguese Public Prosecutor Antonio Cluny at the National Press Club yesterday to share European and American law enforcement perspectives on fighting crime with and without the death penalty.  They discussed whether the death penalty helps or hurts in keeping citizens safe, healing victims, and using crime-fighting resources efficiently.

The short answer to those questions: no. We are no safer because the death penalty is enforced, victims are not healed due to the long and drawn-out process of the death penalty, and our financial resources are not being used effectively. They should be used to train and educate police forces and communities, instead of for “deterrent” purposes.

We are inundated with facts and statistics that tell us the death penalty serves no deterrent function.  What is more powerful, though, is listening to a man who has investigated over 100 homicide cases tell you that he thinks the deterrence argument for the death penalty is “ridiculous.” A child molester, Denmark elaborated, is not deterred from his crimes by the fact that a homicidal terrorist is on death row for his murders. Offenders don’t premeditate getting caught.

But we’ve heard the deterrence argument before, and the obsolete nature of the death penalty goes far beyond its uselessness in preventing crime. Cluny noted that in Portugal, where the death penalty was abolished in 1864, violent crime rates are significantly lower than in other countries, including retentionist countries. Yes, murder still occurs in Portugal, but no one has tried to reintroduce the death penalty. “The first human right,” Cluny said, “is the right to live.”

Alex Trimble contributed to this post.

Police Chiefs to Death Penalty: Drop Dead

The Death Penalty Information Center released a new study today on the high costs, and lack of real benefits, associated with capital punishment in the United States.  The report, called Smart on Crime:  Reconsidering the Death Penalty in a Time of Economic Crisis, also includes the results of a poll of 500 randomly selected U.S. police chiefs who by a more than 2 to 1 margin reject the idea that the death penalty is a deterrent (an assessment confirmed by criminologists),  and, also by a greater than 2 to 1 margin, believe that the death penalty is used as a tough-on-crime symbol by politicians. 

“Greater use of the death penalty” was listed as the best way to reduce violent crime by only 1% (that’s one percent) of the chiefs surveyed, and only 2% (3% in the South) believed that “insufficient use of the death penalty” interferes with effective law enforcement.

And use of the death penalty is declining anyway.  For almost a decade the numbers of death sentences and executions have continued to drop.  As Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, told CNN “…the death penalty is turning into an expensive form of life without parole.” SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Is it worth the risk, Maryland?

When testifying before state lawmakers in 2007, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley asked “Can the death penalty ever be justified as public policy when it inherently necessitates the occasional taking of wrongly convicted, innocent life?” 

According to Michael May, a former military and Baltimore City police officer, the answer is no.  In an op-ed in today’s Baltimore Examiner, May writes that he originally supported the death penalty, certain that all opponents of capital punishment were just “muddleheaded, knee-jerk liberals.”  But it was the risk of executing an innocent person that changed his mind, and he now advocates for repeal of the death penalty in Maryland.   

We know that 130 people have been exonerated from death rows across the country after evidence of their wrongful conviction emerged.  And we know that the first person to be exonerated by DNA evidence, Kirk Bloodsworth, was sentenced to die in Maryland.  The Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment recently voted to recommend repeal of the death penalty, and it is time for the legislature to follow their lead – but in order to do so they need to hear from their constituents!  Find out how you can get involved and help repeal Maryland’s death penalty today!