Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Week 3 Readings

The Peculiar Institution definitely cleared up a number of misconceptions that I apparently had about the use of the death penalty in modern America.  Firstly, I had no idea how little we actually use it relative to the amount of punishment our criminal justice system actually hands out; the author's conception of the modern death penalty as "gold standard" used to underwrite the penal system as an ultimate consequence for criminal behavior really caught my interest.  I also never realized that the U.S. is essentially the only country in the western world that still uses this 'ultimate consequence' in modern times.  On the one hand, based on the state-by-state chart provided by our presenters this week, one could make the argument that the death penalty is successful in modern capacity as the 'gold standard' of the penal system based on the fact that kill-happy Texas seems to have so many less death row inmates that reluctant-to-execute California (though this may also have to do with the fact that Texas just kills them faster).  On the other hand, our presenters raised another good question about whether or not the modern incarnation of the death penalty is a failure in terms of another of its primary purposes; cathartic retribution for the victim's family and friends.  If a member of my family was murdered, I can't imagine getting much satisfaction out of seeing an apparently reformed inmate put to sleep 15 years down the road.  Plus, if retribution is such an important reason to perpetuate the death penalty, then why are we even putting up this farce of humane treatment with the painless injections and last meal of the inmates choice?  If revenge was really my goal, I'd want to see the killer hanged or fried or something, not merely put to sleep in roughly the same manner as a beloved family dog; where's the retribution in that?  To my mind, it's a joke to perpetuate the death penalty and then try to act as if you're treating the situation as humanely as possible.  In the end, this excellent book/ presentation kind of reinforced what I already thought; that the death penalty is an outmoded and archaic form of punishment that is rendered inhumane if even one innocent person is wrongfully executed.  Unfortunately, as the author pointed out, no such governmental mechanism exists in the United States whereby the death penalty was abolished in most other nations (from the top down, in spite of public resistance) because our Constitution gives that power to the states.  And I imagine that it will be a cold day in hell before Texas ever gets rid of the death penalty...


  1. I agree that it is surprising how "few" people are actually executed. It probably ties into the long process involved, and with our reluctance to actually execute someone. There does appear to be the conflict within us, the nation and even as individuals, to up hold the death penalty as retribution and as a consequence for egregious crimes, as well as establishing and reinforcing the idea that we are a nation of laws and no one i under the law (that is the idea at least). The other pulling factor that keeps us from quickly executing those sentenced is the side of us that wants to be sure we have the right person, the side that really does not like putting someone down. You mix it all together and you get a system that will kill the prisoner, yet will attempt to do it in a sterile way that does not want the sentenced person to suffer.
    Today, I am not so sure that the method of execution is inhumane, as we attempt to make it humane, the irony that killing someone can be considered humane-i see your point in that but perhaps it is inhumane because it results in ending ones life) From what I have researched on lethal injection they put someone to sleep first correct? I had an operation recently that required me to go under the same type of anesthesia that Micheal Jackson died from. All I remember was quickly getting tired and falling asleep. Also remember our discussion on assisted suicide and the person drinking the smoothie saying that it didn't hurt at all. I feel that with the way things are this is as humane as we can get it.
    What is inhumane is if an innocent is put to death. That is just a flaw in our large justice system. That, I feel is the biggest reason to do away with the death penalty. It is not the method of execution, but the number of innocents who die. That is why I am okay with a long drawn out appeals process for those on death row, there needs to be time But let us say they even get the death penalty removed from their sentence, what happens? They spend the rest of their lives in prison? Is that a better alternative to lethal injection? Depends on which prisoner you ask, I guess.
    On the idea of retribution, what if the family finds catharsis just in the fact that the person was sentenced to death?
    SOme days I support the death penalty (for those who were accurately convicted) because of the message it sends that awful crimes require a firm stance under the law, this nation under laws, and the fact that we try to be as humane as possible supports my support for it. What do you do with someone who cannot be rehabilitated, redeemed, reconciled? Have the rot in a cell? what good would that do? My earthly self, supports the earthly will of the people, supporting the earthly law of this earthly government.I see it as a necessary evil. Then there are days that I hate it, hate the fact that we have to put someone down; kill them. I hate the fact that innocents get caught up in this system, like all others unfortunately. That we as a society gave up on the person, although if a person rips another man apart it is hard to give them second chances. The idea that a man spending the rest of his life behind bars gives him a chance to save his soul while the world casts him aside. That as a Christian appeals to me.
    Like I said, depending on the day I may be for it or against it. I can see the "benefits" and disadvantages of both sides.
    If there is a large grassroots movement to end the death penalty, it can happen. Nothing is impossible really. yes the system is set up so that adding amendments to the Constitution is slow process, one that I agree with, but if enough support is behind it, it will get results. Yes, even in Texas.

  2. Louis, I couldn't agree more. Your comment about the retributive argument makes a lot of sense to me. I wonder (and of course I can't possibly know at this point) if it would be more cathartic to see the murderer locked up and the key thrown away as an act of finality, rather than waiting and waiting and having the wound reopened every time there's some new drama in the death penalty odyssey. Look at what the families of Ted Bundy's and Danny Rolling's victims had to endure every time those two sickos got an opportunity to flap their gums and get more attention.