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Pax Christi Hosts Death Penalty Discussion Tonight; America Moving Away from Executions

Aberdeen’s Pax Christi will host a discussion of the death penalty this evening at 7 p.m. at the Presentation Convent here in Aberdeen. Dennis Davis, director of South Dakotans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, will speak about possible legislation dealing with capital punishment in the 2018 Legislative Session.

We may not need the Legislature to get over its misplaced thirst for blood. Executions and death sentences have been dwindling since 1999. Public support for killing convicts has declined to below 50%, a level not seen since the 1950s and 1960s. Author Brandon Garrett tells Vox that America is moving away from the death penalty because it accomplishes nothing but punishment:

We’ve never had any evidence that the death penalty deters crime. The rise of death sentencing in the 1970s accompanied a larger turn in criminal justice policy in the United States, where people became more skeptical of rehabilitation as a goal, and they basically threw rehabilitation out the window and replaced it with retribution.

Lawmakers and prison officials all decided that the purpose of criminal sanctions, the purpose of prison, is to punish, and we’re not going to even try to rehabilitate anymore, which essentially meant that they didn’t care about deterring crime anymore. It was just about imposing a rote punishment.

So no, the death penalty doesn’t work if the goal of the justice system is to deter crime. But if the goal is merely to punish without any concern for preventing crime, then it works just fine [Brandon Garrett, interviewed by Sean Illing, Vox, 2017.11.26].

…and that punishment really isn’t worth the public dollars burned up in death-penalty prosecutions:

People used to assume that executing someone would save money: You wouldn’t have to keep a murderer fed and housed in prison for all of those years. Now it is common knowledge that, in fact, the death penalty is orders-of-magnitude more expensive than imprisonment. Local government spends millions on just a single death penalty trial, and states spend hundreds of millions, even billions of dollars, on appeals, habeas and everything else involved in keeping the death penalty on the books. Those costs are even more troubling, of course, if the defense does a more effective job and prosecutors spend millions on a trial at which the jury rejects the death penalty in the end. States have fewer death sentences to show for the millions and billions they spend. Law enforcement has started to push back and say that there are far better uses for those vast sums of money [Brandon Garrett, interviewed by Maurice Chammah, The Marshall Project, 2017.10.02].

We’ve heard that fiscal angst from Pennington County as it allocates over a million dollars to prosecute two capital cases.

The Presentation Sisters oppose the death penalty for clear moral reasons:

As women committed to nonviolence, we seek a penal system that supports conversion and reconciliation, rather than one that perpetuates the cycle of violence and vengeance. We believe the death penalty flows from the assumption that problems in our society will be resolved through violent means, which is the same assumption that led to the attacks of September 11, 2001 [Presentation Sisters, “Statement Opposing Death Penalty,” 2002.01.01].

Keep pushing, Sisters. It appears practicality is pushing the death penalty pendulum back in your moral direction.