April 10, 2007

We've Had Enough Death

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

Last week, Wisconsin State Senator Alan Lasee again introduced legislation that would bring the death penalty back to Wisconsin.  It is my sincere hope that the legislature will vote down this bill once and for all, and ensure that justice is maintained here in Wisconsin.  We cannot afford to abandon our progressive values in favor of vigilante justice.

The truth is that while the death penalty may seem sensible to some, it is simply an ineffective and unjust action.  When Wisconsin eliminated the death penalty in 1853, it did so because it was seen as inhumane, and unbecoming of a civilized society.  Sadly, over 150 years later, we are still debating this divisive issue.

There are numerous problems associated with the death penalty.  First and foremost, it doesn’t work.  It is completely ineffective as a means of deterrence.  Studies have again and again shown that States with the death penalty actually have a higher rate of crime than those without. 

Secondly, the death penalty is expensive.  It costs far more to execute a person, after the extensive appeals process, than it does to keep a person in prison for life.  If the death penalty does not deter crime, why would we spend millions of taxpayer dollars to bring it back and administer it?

Thirdly, we have seen that the death penalty is administered unfairly.  Minorities and low income individuals, who cannot always afford proper counsel, are far more likely to get the death penalty.  Whether we admit it or not, juries can have the same biases that our society does, and that means that many of these decisions will be based on prejudices and stereotypes.

Therefore, given that the death penalty is expensive, ineffective, and unequally applied, what possible reason is there for bringing it back?  The answer is simple: Revenge.  There is something in our gut that wants certain violent criminals to meet an equally violent end.  I certainly empathize with victim’s families who want to see the person who harmed their loved-ones suffer. We cannot, however, base a fair and equal criminal justice system around the concept of revenge.

I can certainly understand the motives of those who seek to bring this practice back, but I must stand up and oppose such attempts.  Our community has been ravaged by crime and incarceration.  The return of the death penalty would only add to the pain and inequality that already exists.  I urge everyone to remember that revenge and justice are two very different things.  Justice is ours and vengeance is God’s.

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