By Marc Hyden, Special for USDR
Conservative and Republican leaders in Nebraska are leading an effort to become the first ‘red state’ to repeal the death penalty in the modern era. On April 16th, the unicameral legislature voted 30-13 in support of LB-268, which would repeal capital punishment and replace it with life without parole.
Seventeen Republicans voted with the majority. They came from a variety of perspectives and affiliations, but their core principles – limited government, fiscal responsibility, and respect for life – united them in shared concerns about the death penalty. Rather than make us safer, they believe capital punishment has proven to be a costly government program prone to error and abuse.
There has been a dramatic shift among conservatives in understanding criminal justice policy, as many today question some of the costly and ineffective policies enacted in the 1980s and 1990s. Our concerns about the death penalty fit directly into this broader trend in the conservative world of taking a hard look at failed criminal justice policies.
More than ever, conservatives recognize that the criminal justice system must hold individuals accountable, protect the innocent, be responsive to victims’ needs, spend taxpayer dollars responsibly, and be effective in reducing crime. We cannot turn a blind eye as the death penalty consistently falls short of these goals.
Since 1973, more than 150 people have been sentenced to death before new evidence revealed that they were wrongfully convicted. Some executions have gone forward despite compelling evidence suggesting that the condemned may have been innocent. It is hard to imagine a greater abuse of government power than executing an innocent citizen. It’s also difficult to reconcile a policy that poses such risks with a culture that truly values life.
This hazardous policy has not made Americans safer. There continues to be no evidence that the death penalty reduces crime, as murder rates in states without the death penalty are lower than states with it. Taxpayers ultimately bear the burden for this ineffective policy. Repeatedly, studies have shown capital cases are many times more costly than similar cases in which the death penalty is not sought.
Capital punishment’s potential impact on murder victims’ families also raises concerns. As a result of past mistakes and wrongful convictions, today’s capital cases involve lengthy trials and appeals. Rather than address the needs of murder victims’ families, the death penalty can inflict additional harm on them by keeping them embroiled in the legal process for years or decades.
The Nebraska legislature is expected to take a second vote on the repeal bill this coming week, with another vote to come if it passes again. There are compelling reasons for conservatives – not just in Nebraska but everywhere – to be concerned about the death penalty. It is a broken and ineffective government program, exactly the kind of thing that we are against.
Marc Hyden is the National Advocacy Coordinator with Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty, a Project of EJUSA. Prior to this position, Marc worked for the National Rifle Association (NRA) as a Campaign Field Representative.