Death penalty doesn’t ‘protect’ anyone
You can call it a myth, a belief, an assumption, even a wish. But the notion that the death penalty “protects” people from homicide cannot be called a “fact” and should not be the basis for policy.Sadly, this non-fact appears to be the principle behind Rep. Phil Greazzo’s bill to make it possible for the state to execute anyone who “purposely causes the death of another.”His proposal, House Bill 162, has received the endorsement of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, which on Oct. 20 voted 11-6 to recommend its passage. The bill will come to the House floor in early January.Under current law, the death penalty is reserved for those who commit one of a small category of homicides, such as murder of a law enforcement officer or murder for hire. As Representative Greazzo sees it, the limit on the use of the death penalty violates the principle that everyone “should be protected equally under the law.”Tomislav V. Kovandzic, a professor of criminology at the University of Texas at Dallas and co-author of “Does the Death Penalty Save Lives?,” would no doubt agree with the principle of equal protection. But when he testified before New Hampshire’s Death Penalty Study Commission on April 9, 2010, he said, “There may be other reasons to support the death penalty, but the belief that it deters murder should not be one of them.”Not satisfied with the reliability of earlier studies, Kovandzic used complex computer models and data from 1977 to 2006 from both the FBI and Centers for Disease Control to see if any connection can be made between homicide rates and the death penalty. In a paper published in the scholarly journal, Criminology and Public Policy, Kovandzic and his co-authors said they had found “no evidence that presence of the death penalty or increases in any of nine execution risk measures studied reduce murder rates.” Acknowledging that some researchers have reached other conclusions, he told the Commission members, “You have to torture the data to come to a conclusion that there’s a deterrent effect of the death penalty.”In other words, making more people subject to the death penalty won’t stop people from committing murder. The death penalty does not protect us.Moreover, according to the Department of Justice, the two capital murder cases it has recently prosecuted have run tabs of more than $1.7 million each. Both cases are still on appeal, which means the tab is still running.The expense of a capital case is far higher than the cost of a homicide case for which life imprisonment is the maximum penalty, even when the costs of imprisonment are added in. According to the department’s analysis, “there were 8 murders in 2008, 10 murders in 2009, and 5 murders in 2010 that would have likely been charged as capital murders” had Greazzo’s proposal been in effect.If we don’t like the notion that the state’s limited death penalty gives the impression that some homicide victims are more important than others, the road to equal treatment is through getting rid of capital punishment altogether.Representative Greazzo said as much himself. “I think if we have the death penalty it should apply equally to everyone or it should apply equally to no one,” he stated. Let’s choose the second option and look for ways to reduce violence based on facts, not assumptions.Arnie Alpert is New Hampshire Program Coordinator for the American Friends Service Committee.