Self Analysis

Hey Readers,

Thanks for checking back on my blog one final time, as I reflect back on the journey that I’ve taken these past few weeks with my topic. When I went into this, I already had an opinion, from a humanitarian standpoint, that I did not approve of the death penalty. Because of this already biased opinion, I made sure from the to beginning to look for all types of evidence, and keep an open mind.

With this mentality, even when I thought I had hit a huge bump in my project, when I found out that support for capital punishment was much greater than I had thought, I decided to still talk about it, and that post ended up teaching me so much about my topic, becoming a turning point in my research. It was so important for me to understand the opposite side’s arguments, because only then was I truly able to understand my own.

My strength during this project was the research I had done in the beginning of my project, because it gave me a basis to reach the conclusions I eventually came to. My weakness was the middle of the project, when other pressing life matters came in, and definitely made it really challenging for me to come back and delve deeply into the issue again.

All the research I did just confirmed my thoughts, but I became so much more informed and well-rounded on this issue. I realized that there were economic factors, and errors of the system, and data to be researched and presented, as well as what had originally interested me the most, the theoretical and psychological side of all of it.

Thanks for following my blog. I hope you learned a lot and enjoyed this journey as I have.

If Capital Punishment Goes Unchecked (Implications Post)

Hey Everyone,

After everything that has been discussed these past few days, I wanted to take a minute to talk about the implications that the death penalty has in our country, and what might happen if it isn’t abolished.

Really, on the surface, things will appear to continue as they have been: some dangerous citizens will be killed, while in the process, innocent and mentally incapacitated people will also be executed.

First, I think it is noteworthy to mention the cost of capital punishment. The money we have been spending and will continue to spend on the death penalty is great, and could be used to fund so many other things. In addition to what I talked about in a previous post, the amount of resources that would free up due to the abolition of the death penalty would also be great. In a time of limited economic resources, this economic argument does hold weight.

However, much more important than this  is the fact that the perpetuation of the death penalty is proof to society that killing is okay, as long as it is sanctioned by the state. It is using the crime itself as punishment.

Paul Jacob Bhatti says in Moving Away from the Death Penalty, that

“There is no justice without life, and you can’t appreciate life if you don’t reject death.”

This is what I think to be the greatest thing we as a people are losing and continue to lose while we do not address this issue. We are becoming a people who are aware of life, rights, and the dignity of the human person, and I think that the more aware we become, the more this will hurt humanity as it continues to be ignored.

Death Penalty Conflict (Theory Post)

As I talked about in my analysis post, the United States is the only first world country to be on the list of 10 countries with the most executions in the world. This statistic is shocking, and must be changed, if we are to continue to be considered leaders for democracy in the 21st century.

In order to resolve this issue, we need a complete abolition of the death penalty in our nation. However, this process is going to be taken step-by-step, as many other issues of rights have occurred in our country. Firstly though, it is important to note that the death penalty has been steadily decreasing since 1993. This is a sign of positive changes in the system, where death is not the immediate remedy to a bad situation.

The difficulty in making this change, though, is that, unlike many countries, the death penalty in the United States cannot be taken away at a national level; instead, each state on its own must reach that conclusion. Currently, 19 states have made the death penalty illegal, and 31 states still have it, although about 18 of those rarely put it into practice. Of the remaining states, North Carolina is one of the strongest death penalty supporters.

Lastly, however, we need awareness of this issue. People who are in support of the death penalty need to see what it actually does to our society, and the countless flaws there are in this system.

Once this is recognized, both sides can “meet halfway” on this issue, and allow capital punishment only in extreme circumstances, when the safety of the general public is in question.

Analysis of Capital Punishment

As I began this blog, I was hoping to learn about the death penalty: the issues surrounding it, the processes involved, statistics regarding capital punishment, etc. And while I have discovered most of the answers to these questions, my research has finally brought me to the most fundamental question: why does the death penalty still exist in North Carolina, and in the United States as a whole?

In a country that has been at the forefront of tolerance, care for society’s marginalized, and social change, why does the death penalty still exist? Out of 196 countries in today’s world, only 58 still permit the use of the death penalty. Of these, the United States makes number 5 on the list of 10 countries with the most executions. Looking at the this list, I noticed (and then did some research to confirm) that every other country on it was considered a third world country in some regard, whether it be in terms of poverty, human development, press freedom, Gross National Income, or political rights. Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, says on his website that, “[s]ince the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, 1369 men, women, children, and mentally ill people have been shot, hanged, asphyxiated, lethally injected, and electrocuted by States and the federal government.” The United States is a superpower in today’s world, and is the advocate of freedom and protection of rights. Why, then, is it that capital punishment is still being used?

In one of my recent blog posts, I discussed the percent of Americans who are in favor of the death penalty, and then presented a study that showed what the reasoning was behind this favoring of capital punishment over a life in prison. An overwhelming response seems to be the notion of, “An eye for an eye”, or, similarly, that “[the criminals] deserve it” . Americans have defined our system as one in which justice is based on retribution, rather than a justice based on mercy and the protection of all of a government’s citizens.

The other thing that is interesting to note is the possibility of innocent people being put to death under our country’s current use of capital punishment. Since 1973, there have been 186 death row inmates exonerated, saving them from an execution for a crime they did not commit. If there are this many people actually proven innocent, we can be certain that there have been more that were actually killed, though innocent. The Death Penalty Information Center discusses the possibility of innocence by bringing up the 1972 Supreme Court’s Furman vs. Georgia ruling that the death penalty procedure at that time was, “arbitrary and capricious and therefore unconstitutional”. They thought that this would protect innocent people from being executed, but the reality is that not much changed in the years following this case. A key quote from this case is that, “[n]o matter how careful courts are, the possibility of perjured testimony, mistaken honest testimony, and human error remain all too real. We have no way of judging how many innocent persons have been executed, but we can be certain that there were some.” Because capital cases are so human, and therefore, subject to error, is it justified to end the lives innocent people in order to kill those who warrant it? What kind of a society is willing to sacrifice the lives of innocent people, however few they might be?

The next thing is the mentally ill, which I discussed briefly in my last post. Something I want to touch on here is that in Ford vs. Wainwright, the Supreme Court ruled that insane people can be exempt from the death penalty, insofar as they don’t realize that what they did was wrong. As for the mentally ill, the only thing preventing them from being put on death row is their inability to realize that they are going to be executed. In either of these cases, once the individual is cognizant of the situation at hand, (that their past actions were wrong, or that they are going to be put to death), they are then able to be executed. Capital Punishment in Context gives an example of this, where a “Charles Singleton, whose paranoid schizophrenia caused him to believe his victim was still alive and his cell was inhabited by demons. He was forcibly medicated in order to make him mentally competent for his execution in Arkansas on January 6, 2004.” 

In the United States Bill of Rights, we as Americans are protected from “cruel and unusual punishment”. To me, this treatment of the insane and/or mentally ill falls under this category. People are being put to death for crimes in which they were not fully competent. Although these Supreme Court rulings help criminals who are facing these unfair situations, there is still a long way to go. Not to mention, as Bryan Stevenson says in his book Just Mercy, the amount of people who are mentally ill who do not have this taken into account during their trials. He tells the stories of quite a few people who reached out to him while on death penalty, and as he visited them and realized things were off, talked to train professionals to confirm this was true, and looked at transcripts of their trials, found that their mental state was not even mentioned in any of the trials that bargained for the life of the criminal at hand. If Bryan Stevenson, only one lawyer in the whole system, has found countless cases as a testimony to this unfortunate flaw the system, how many more must there be?

Lastly, I wanted to acknowledge one of the first things I found when I began researching the death penalty. From the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, I was able to find the treatment of typical prisoners on death row. Something I noticed was that they are only able to receive visits once a week, from a maximum of 2 visitors. During these visits, physical contact is not allowed. I went on to search for the effect of physical contact on the human person, and found an article discussing a study that proved that, “human touch has wide-ranging physical and emotional benefits for people of all age groups.” I think this is just a final little proof that even though these criminals may have done wrong, they are human. By  taking away personal contact, and then ultimately having them executed, society is stripping human beings of their basic rights, which should be protected by our government.

To conclude this post, I want to acknowledge again one of the top reasons that Americans today are in favor of the death penalty: “An eye for an eye”. Before I even knew that this was the reasoning behind many of those in favor of capital punishment, throughout my research I had been thinking repeatedly of the phrase spoken by Gandhi, one of the great contemporary peacemakers of our time, who said, “An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind.” In order for our society to really advance, we need to recognize what is holding us back, and it is this idea that justice can only reconciled through retribution. Justice is necessary, but it should be used to protect, to teach, and to better society as a whole.

As Bryan Stevenson said in a talk at the University of North Carolina on August 17th, “the opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is Justice”. That is the type of justice that should be governing our prison systems.


Death Row Prisoners

Hello Readers,

Thank you for checking back! In my last post, I talked about people that support the death penalty, and their reasoning in doing so. For today’s post, I want to consider capital punishment in terms of the prisoners who are acquitted. Throughout my research, I have been finding so much information about mental illness with regards to the death penalty. The Death Penalty Information Center explains that,

“The Supreme Court held in Ford v. Wainwright (477 U.S. 399 (1986)) that executing the insane is unconstitutional. However, if an inmate’s mental competency has been restored, he or she can then be executed.  Inmates who are intellectually disabled (mentally retarded) also cannot be executed.  Inmates who are mentally ill, but not insane, have no such exemption.”

While the Supreme Court ruling addressed the insane, it neglects a whole group of people who can still be suffering from severe mental illness. That being said, I encourage you to look at this article giving specific examples of people struggling with mental illnesses who were still committed to death. In many of these examples, the person does have aggressive tendencies, and doesn’t have the ability to tell right from wrong. Not to mention that once a person realizes what she or he did wrong, they can be executed for that crime.

Also, even though I don’t have the ability to discuss it at length here, I encourage you to find information about the role of racial bias in capital punishment, especially here in North Carolina.

What do you guys think about this? Please comment below with your thoughts, and let me know whether this new information might change any possible thoughts you had about capital punishment!

Implications of private prisons

Based on the research that I’ve done on private prisons, it is apparent that if nothing is done to reform them, there will be negative results in the incarceration system.  Studies performed on the growth of private prisons points to more and people being held in these facilities without a visible end.  This includes the immigrants that keep being funneled into the prisons.  Secondly, as the industry continues to grow, I think the problem with cutting corners on the worker compensation and amenities provided for the prisoners will continue to worsen.  Who’s to say that the amenities will be cut to an almost unlivable level.  Finally, if nothing is done to change the private prison system, and its influence continues to grow, I believe that these corporations will use their increased influence to  get more and more prisoners for less and less crimes.  They have already been documented paying judges to send kids to prison.  What else could they do if there is no reformation?

The Future of Defendants’ Rights – Implication Post

If defendants’ legal rights are not extended to treat people equally, then accused people who are unable to afford legal services will continue to be discriminated against.

People who cannot afford bail and court fees will still receive additional punishment such as being sent to jail while people who can afford to pay fees will avoid punishment. In the last five years, 48 states have increased the amount of criminal and civil court fees. Many defendants now have to pay for legal services that should be free such as public defenders, supervision during probation, or electronic monitoring. Defendants even have to pay room, board, and cost of care in prisons. The trend of increasing court fees will continue to occur if defendants’ rights are not addressed and the court system are not properly funded. Increasing court fees will worsen the problem by forcing more people in jail for not being able to pay the court system.

Similarly, people who can afford attorneys will continue to receive much better protection than people who cannot afford attorneys and have to be appointed public defenders. According to the NLADA, people who cannot hire private lawyers are appointed public defenders that have excessive caseloads and have limited resources due to underfunding.

Discriminating against the poor in the criminal justice system will create a cycle that punishes people without money. If a poor person is accused of a crime, he or she will be more likely to go to prison because of a overworked public defender or being unable to pay court fees. This will lead to an increase in prison populations and make the criminal justice system more expensive for states, thus forcing them to further increase court fees.