The Death Penalty in America; A Costly, Flawed, and Prejudiced System.

 In 1997, in Jefferson Parrish, Louisiana, a murder takes place inside a local grocery store.  A black male wearing a ski mask was seen walking into the store at which time an argument ensued between the man and the owner.  The man then shoots the owner and flees into the parking lot where he jumps into the open passenger window of a waiting car and speeds off.  While speeding off, he discards the ski mask which is subsequently picked up by a witness and turned over to responding police officers.
 A short time later, Ryan Matthews who matches what little description was given of the suspect, is apprehended while operating a car that seems identical to the getaway car described witnesses had described.  Mr. Matthews is charged with the murder and is sentenced to death.
 It is not until after a death sentence is handed down and precious years are spent as a condemned man that the facts come to light.  The DNA collected from inside the ski mask belongs to another man who has been imprisoned for another murder near the grocery store.  Further, the man whose DNA was matched, when asked about the crime confesses. Finally, it is determined that the passenger door window of Mr. Matthews car would not roll down meaning that neither he nor anyone else could have jumped through an open passenger window.

Thankfully, Mr. Matthews’ life has been spared but how many have not?  Since 1971, one hundred thirty-nine death row inmates have been released; their charges either dropped or they were acquitted for various reasons.


Throughout history we have seen the standards used to determine what offenses are punishable by death vary widely from theft and treason to rape and murder.  In the military we’ve even seen people put to death for offenses such as cowardice and desertion.  Desertion during time of war is still punishable by death under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

The problems with the death penalty are many.  Aside from the fact that the possibility exists for innocent men and women to be put to death, the financial costs are far too high for our nation to bear.  Financial costs are especially too high at a time when our economy is in peril and our crime rates and the percentage of those incarcerated seems to climb ever higher in spite of the death penalty that some believe actually deters crime.  There is little doubt that if the death penalty is in fact a deterrent, it is not a great enough deterrent to justify its cost.
 Regardless of what you believe, whether you are pro- or anti-death penalty, all must agree that $2.3 million is a lot of money that can fund many different crime prevention measures such as putting more cops on the street or treating drug abuse and addiction.  $2,300,000 is what the State of Texas spends on average to prosecute and carry out a death penalty case over a non-death penalty case.  That is approximately three times the cost of incarcerating a person in a single person cell with the highest level of security available for forty years.  In 2010, there were 317 inmates on death row in Texas.  At an average cost of $2.3 million, the total cost of executing each of these offenders over other forms of sentencing would be over $729 million.  With 35 states plus the U.S. Government and U.S. Military having the death penalty, one can only imagine the money that is wasted carrying out a punishment that does so little to deter crime.
Aside from the economic costs and the inevitable fallibility of the death penalty, we have to look at the existence of racial bias in this country.  We live in a time where for the first time in American history, we believe that the laws guarantee racial equality.  Statistics prove that despite laws guaranteeing racial equality, equal protection under the law is something that is still denied to a sizeable demographic in America.
Currently in the United States, African-Americans make up nearly fifty percent of those murdered.  Despite the fact that half of all murder victims are African-American, from 1976 to 1991, eighty-six percent of all persons on death row in America were there for killing white people.   These statistics suggest that in the eyes of our justice system, the value of a white life is somehow worth more than an African-American life.  Racial bias is so blatantly obvious based on these statistics that we as a society are irresponsible at best, if we don’t have a moratorium on the death penalty to work out racial inequalities and make an effort to value all lives equally.
 The death penalty is clearly not a perfect method for exacting justice.  So long as it is a human institution it will never be perfect and innocent men and women will inevitably become victims of it.  The monetary costs versus reward aspect of this archaic punishment are far too high for capital punishment to even be a logical consideration.  Even if you believe it is a deterrent you must agree that the obscene amounts of money spent on capital punishment could be put to more effective use elsewhere.  The question we must ask ourselves is whether we as a society, want to continue to throw away money that could be better put to use helping those in need in favor of a system that is imperfect in its application, prejudiced, and does little if anything to deter crime.