By Marc Hyden, Special for USDR
For years I believed in the myth that all conservatives to support the death penalty, but like many myths, it’s a work of fiction. As a southern conservative, I initially bought into this falsehood, but as I learned more about the systemic and chronic problems associated with the current system of capital punishment, my views gradually shifted. But I am not the only conservative who is rethinking the death penalty. Numerous national conservative icons are leading the fight against the death penalty and working with my group, Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty (CCATDP).
Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty debuted at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) 2013, and, at first, I was concerned about how we would be received by my fellow conservatives. My worries were put to rest when we were met with a very warm reception and thanked by many conservatives for filling a void by creating a forum for conservatives to discuss the death penalty’s many failures. But it should not astonish anyone that conservatives across the nation are speaking out against capital punishment because it offends many of the core principles of conservatism.
The current system of capital punishment bares an inherent risk to innocent life. More than 140 people have been wrongly convicted and released from death row, and the number of wrongful convictions keeps rising. It is impossible to say how many individuals may have been wrongly executed by the state, but the risk of executing an innocent person is undeniable. This is a system that makes mistakes regardless of good intentions.
As the economy continues to stagnate and sputter along in the doldrums, states will continue to face problems balancing their budgets and must justify every dime that is spent, especially when cheaper alternatives exist. A multitude of cost studies reveal that capital punishment is much more expensive that life without parole, and it is more costly on every level too – from pre-trial motions, trials, appeals, and even housing. The costs vary from state to state, but one universal theme is that the death penalty is much more expensive than life without the possibility of release.
Conservatives are skeptical of many government programs and state powers, but we should also be concerned about the government’s authority to take the lives of U.S. citizens. Our government makes mistakes and has abused its power in the past, and conservatives are correct to be wary. The human element in the death penalty process makes it susceptible to abuse and mistakes. Innocent human life is far too precious to be entrusted to a government marred by these imperfections.
With all of the death penalty’s costs and faults, you would hope that it would at least serve a greater benefit, but it does not. Capital punishment is supposed to protect society by deterring crime and serve victims’ families the justice that they deserve. However, studies have shown that the death penalty does not keep society safe because it does not deter murder. The areas that use the death penalty frequently have the highest murder rates and if there was deterrence in the use of capital punishment, then one would expect Texas to have the lowest murder rates. It does not, and it’s not even remotely close to the lowest murder rates.
Even many families of murder victims are turning against capital punishment because it’s been a disservice to them. It fails them because they are re-traumatized through a decades-long process of trials and appeals, and many times the offender dies of old age while riding out the automatic appeals process. The system of capital punishment has enormous human, as well as financial costs, but accomplishes very little in return.
Today’s death penalty process is a failure that has become nearly indefensible. It gives an imperfect government the greatest power of all – the power to take a life, while risking the lives of innocent Americans. It has become a fiscal drain, it does not make the public safer, and it fails to bring swift and sure justice to victims’ families.
The many hazards and negative consequences of the death penalty are why so many conservatives are re-thinking their support for capital punishment and why Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty has been welcomed in many corners of the conservative world. This year we are returning to CPAC and we do so knowing that we are a bona fide part of the established conservative world. Standing by us are conservative leaders like Brent Bozell, Dr. Ron Paul, Jay Sekulow, and Richard Viguerie all of whom are taking a stand against a failed government policy that is contrary to conservative principles.
Marc Hyden serves as the Advocacy Coordinator with Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty, a Project of EJUSA. Prior to this work, Marc was a Campaign Field Representative with the National Rifle Association, Campaign Manager for Republican campaigns, the Legislative Liaison with the Georgia Office of Homeland Security, and Legislative Aide to the Georgia Senate President Pro Tempore.