It is often said that support for the death penalty is a mile wide but an inch deep — people often support it, but they haven’t spent too much time figuring out why. It is understandable that, in reaction to a violent and senseless crime, the community would want to see justice done. But after spending a lot of time considering the issues, we have decided that the justice that best serves our community isn’t capital punishment.
As a result, we are sponsoring a bill to end capital punishment in Montana and replace it with life without the possibility of parole.
Those who support the death penalty usually use the same, tired arguments: It saves money. It deters crime. Everyone who gets the death penalty is guilty and deserves to die. We’re here to say those arguments are wrong, wrong and wrong.
Studies show that the death penalty costs up to 10 times as much as life without parole, even when you account for the housing, feeding and medical attention for a prisoner for the rest of his or her life. If you think we can make it cheaper by getting rid of the lengthy appeals process required for the death penalty, you’re mistaken. Thanks to mandates from the U.S. and Montana Supreme Courts, most of the costs actually come on the front end, during the drawn-out and expensive initial death penalty trial. You may not like paying tax dollars that allow a criminal to sit in prison for 50 years, but you should really hate paying 10 times that much for a 20-year-plus process that almost never ends in an execution.
Not a deterrent
Experts agree that no study has ever conclusively proven that capital punishment is a deterrent. States without the death penalty actually have lower murder rates, on average, than states that do have it. This may be due in part to the fact that non-death penalty states have more money to spend on corrections, public safety programs and police officers, rather than wasting money on a broken death penalty policy.
Evidence has shown that not every prisoner on death row is the worst of the worst; sometimes we get it wrong, and we have a moral imperative to protect innocent lives. Since 1976, 142 death row inmates have been exonerated of their crimes. Thanks to the rise of DNA technology, we are able to better prove innocence — but DNA is available in fewer than 10 percent of cases. And while we can be thankful that it doesn’t seem that Montana has executed anyone who was innocent, we are not willing to take that chance. We know, even here in Montana, that mistakes are made, and one mistake is too many.
There are many other reasons to support ending the death penalty. It would save victims’ family members from enduring the lengthy and public appeals process that forces them, time and time again, to re-confront their loved one’s murderer. It is consistent with Christian values, which teach us to show mercy and compassion. (Remember, when the religious men were ready to stone the adulterous woman, a capital offense according to the Old Testament, it was Jesus who saved her, stating “Let he who is blameless throw the first stone.”)
This bill will save Montana taxpayer dollars, protect innocent lives, better serve murder victim family members, stay true to our Christian values, and still ensure that murderers are never free to harm our communities. The answer is simple: It’s time to get rid of the death penalty.