It is time to STOP spending millions of tax dollars on a system that is broken beyond repair.
The death penalty does not make us safer.
Study after study has shown that the death penalty does not deter crime. States without the death penalty have far lower murder rates than those with the death penalty.[i] The South accounts for 80% of U.S. executions and 50% of the U.S. death row population but has the highest regional murder rate.[ii] Police chiefs across the nation don’t think the death penalty deters crime, ranking it last among ways to reduce violent crime.[iii] Resources that are currently used on capital cases should be reinvested in programs that reduce crime and violence and provide assistance to victims of crime.
The death penalty’s cost to Washington taxpayers is staggering.
Capital cases are far more expensive than cases seeking life imprisonment without possibility of parole. In Washington, taxpayers pay nearly $800,000 in additional costs beyond what is spent on a non-death penalty trial. In a time of fiscal crisis, millions of dollars are diverted from other services to pay for the exorbitant price of the death penalty. Rather than paying for the death penalty in a few high-profile cases, these resources could be used to help victims’ families and better fund police departments and crime labs to solve cold cases.
The death penalty is unfair.
Application of the death penalty is arbitrary. Prosecutors in various counties differ widely on whether they will seek it—meaning where a crime is committed determines who gets the death penalty. And the death penalty is not reserved for the “worst of the worst”—some of the worst mass murderers in Washington’s history have received life sentences.[iv]
The risk of mistakes is too great.
The death penalty poses an unacceptable risk of executing the innocent. Since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1977, over 130 men and women have been released from death row nationally—some only minutes away from execution.[v] It is likely that innocent individuals have been executed—and such mistakes are irreversible.
The death penalty fails the families of victims.
The death penalty requires extensive due process to reduce the chance of a mistaken execution. But that means a lengthy process that prolongs the pain of victims’ families, who must relive their trauma and suffer uncertainty over years of court hearings. Life incarceration without parole is a harsh punishment that would give those families closure instead of prolonged trauma – and the savings could be used to support those families.
Life without parole is a sensible alternative to the death penalty.
A sentence of life without parole means exactly what it says—those convicted of crimes are locked away in prison until they die. Unlike the death penalty, life without parole allows mistakes to be corrected or new evidence to come to light, without the high cost.
Other states are repealing the death penalty.
Connecticut recently passed a bill to repeal the death penalty and became the 17th state, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, to have repealed the death penalty. In November 2011, the Governor of Oregon announced a moratorium on executions in his state and called the death penalty system “compromised and inequitable.” Washington should follow their lead and replace its death penalty with a fairer, more sensible system.
[i] “Murder Rates Nationally and by State.”Death Penalty Information Center. Available at: http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/murder-rates-nationally-and-state
[ii] “Death Row Inmates by State.” January 2010. Death Penalty Information Center. Available at: http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/death-row-inmates-state-and-size-death-r... Also see: “Regional Murder Rates: 2001-2009.”Death Penalty Information Center. Available at: http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/murder-rates-nationally-and-state
[iii] “Smart on Crime: Reconsidering the Death Penalty in a Time of Economic Crisis.” October 2009. Death Penalty Information Center. Available at: http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/documents/CostsRptFinal.pdf
[iv] See State v. Cross, 156 Wn.2d 580, 652, 132 P.3d 80 (2006) (C. Johnson, J., dissenting) (“Where the death penalty is not imposed on Gary Ridgeway, Ben Ng, and Kwan Fai Mak, who represent the worst mass murderers in Washington’s history, on what basis do we determine on whom it is imposed?”)