Thursday, January 22, 2004

Death penalty thoughts

Will at Crescat Sententia asks some interesting questions (and answers some interesting answers) about the death penalty.

My thoughts in response are two:

1) I'd disagree, however, on Will's point that we "once people are dead, we often stop looking [for information about their innocence." Between the constituencies that dislike the death penalty (e.g. liberal activists, some religious conservatives, abolitionists generally, etc) and those that would make their careers from discovering that an innocent person has been put to death (e.g. newspaper reporters), I find it hard to believe that there are innocent people who have recently been executed that we don't yet know about. It seems to me that even one case of an innocent execution would "prove the point" of so many groups and has the potential to make the career of some young reporter - if a case existed, with the potential benefit of discovery so high, I would guess it would have been found. That's just a thought, not sure though. And it's certainly not something I'd rely on.

2) And as for Will's last question, I'd simply posit that we as a society set a "cost" for murder (depending on how your view of imprisonment - as retribution, punishment, prevention, etc; any way you cut it, it's a cost). We don't want criminals to unilaterally modify that cost by killing themselves. Presumably, the suicidal imprisoned feel that they would be better off by killing themselves - that's exactly why we don't let them. We let criminals improve their lot a bit (e.g. by giving them access to a basketball court), but too much cost-cutting we can't accept.

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