Death penalty research
informs student debater
Recently, my ninth grade class was given the death penalty as a debate topic. We spent several weeks researching for the debate. I was assigned the pro-death penalty position. While researching, it became clear that it was not going to be easy to defend the death penalty. I’m not complaining; I actually won the debate. I shouldn’t have.
The debate circled around four facets of the death penalty. The first was the risk of executing an innocent person. This risk is somewhat low, but much higher than should be tolerable. Google the names Cameron Todd Willingham or Brian Terrell, for example. Additionally, countless people spend dozens of years on death row before being exonerated. Recently, I read a news story about three innocent men from Baltimore released after 36 years in prison.
The next factor was racism. The evidence here is clear: A black person who kills a white person is 10 times more likely to be executed than a white person who kills a black person. More than 75% of people sentenced to death were accused of killing a white person, even though about half of homicide victims in the United States are black.
The third factor was cost. Virtually every modern or near-modern study done confirms that prosecuting a death penalty case costs somewhere from hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars more than a non-death penalty case.
The final aspect we debated was whether the death penalty deters crime. The murder rate in states without the death penalty is consistently lower than states with the death penalty, and the gap has grown since 1990. On the global scale, most countries that abolished the death penalty recently have seen drops in murder rates. This mass of evidence makes it clear that the death penalty needs to go.