Capital Punishment and the Death Penalty Punishment and the Death Penalty ... vengeance or atonement,…

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038-041 Capital Punish.qxd 2/13/09 12:01 AM Page 1CapitalPunishmentandtheDeathPenaltyBACKGROUND Althoughmore thanhalf the countriesof theworldhaveabolishedthedeathpenalty in lawor practice since adoption of the UniversalDeclaration of Human Rights over 50 years ago(Amnesty International, 1998), the practice ofcapital punishment persists in the UnitedStates.Between1930andNovember2000,4,890peoplewereexecutedandmorethan3,500people currently on death row await execution(Amnesty International, 1998; Death PenaltyInformationCenter, 2000b;U.S.Department ofJustice,1997).OnlyChina,Iran,SaudiArabia,and the Congo executemore people than theUnitedStates (Amnesty International,1998).Toplayaroleinchangingthisreality,socialworkersneed tobe familiarwith the followingantiandprodeathpenaltyarguments.AntiDeathPenaltyArgumentsArgument1:Thecriminaljusticesystemhassent innocentpeople todeath row. Somehavebeen executed (Friends Committee on NationalLegislation [FCNL], 2000). Between 1973 and2000, 89peoplewere released fromdeath rowbecause of evidence of their innocence afterspendinganaverageof7.6years incarceratedand awaiting execution (Death Penalty InformationCenter,2000b).Evidencethatapplicationofthedeathpenaltyistooarbitrary,toopronetoerror,andunfairlyadministered supports theargumentthatthesystemsimplycannotbereliableenoughtoensuretheprincipleoflife.Argument2:Thedeathpenaltyisappliedina raciallydisparate fashion (FCNL,2000).Onthebasisofareviewof28empiricalstudies,the U.S. General Accounting Office (1990)reportedapatternofracialdisparitiesatalllevelsincharging, insentencing,and in imposingthedeathpenalty.In82percentofthestudies,raceofthevictimwasfoundtobeafactorin how the death penalty was applied, withthose who murdered white people 4.3 timesmore likelytobesentencedtodeaththanthosewhomurderedblackpeopleeventhoughpeopleofcolorarethevictimsinmorethanhalfofall homicides. A study of death penalty sentencing inPhiladelphiabetween1983and1993found that black defendantswere nearly threetimesmore likely to receive a death sentencethan were all other defendants (Baldus,Woodworth, Zuckerman,Weiner, & Broffitt,1998). Only two of the 20 people on federaldeathrowin2001werewhite.Argument 3: The death penalty unfairlypenalizes those who are developmentallyunable to understand the implications of theirbehaviororcannotobtainpropercounsel.AsofJanuary1,2001,73personswereondeath rowunder death sentences received for juvenilecrimes. These 73 condemned juveniles constituted about 2 percent of the total death rowpopulation of about 3,700.Although allwereages 16 or 17 at the time of their crimes, theircurrent ages ranged from 18 to 42. Theywereunderdeathsentencesin15differentstatesandhad been on death row for a fewmonths tomorethan22years.Texashasbyfarthelargestdeathrowforjuvenileoffenders,nowholding26(33percent)ofthenationaltotalof74 juvenileoffenders.Therearecurrently83deathrowinmates(allmen)sentencedas juveniles,constituting2.24percentofthetotaldeathrowpopulation (DeathRowUSA, 2002). Sixteen states(CA,CO,CT,IL,IN,KS,MD,MT,NE,NJ,NM,NY,OH,OR,TN,andWA)andthefederalgovernmenthaveaminimumageof18forcapital 038-041 Capital Punish.qxd 2/13/09 12:01 AM Page 238 038-041 Capital Punish.qxd 2/13/09 12:01 AM Page 3punishment.There isaproblem inotherstates,where children age 14 or younger are tried asadultsandsubjecttothedeathpenalty.On June 20, 2002, the U.S. Supreme CourtruledthattheexecutionofpeoplewithmentalretardationiscontrarytotheU.S.Constitution.Finally, in relation to poor people, about 90percentofpeople facing thedeathpenaltycannotafford theirownattorney,andnostatehasmet standards developed by the American BarAssociation (1989) for appointment, performance, and compensation of counsel for indigentprisoners.Argument 4: The U.S. murder rate greatlyexceedsEuropeannondeathpenaltynations.DatareleasedbytheBritishHomeOfficerevealthat theUnited States,which retains thedeathpenalty, has amurder rate that ismore thanthreetimesthatofmanyofitsEuropeanalliesthathavebannedcapitalpunishment.Thedatachallengetheargumentthatthedeathpenaltyisadeterrent tomurder.Therearemore than110nationsaroundtheworldthathavebannedthedeathpenaltyinlaworpractice.ProDeathPenaltyArgumentsAlthough this policy statement asserts thatthereasonsoutlined fully justifyrejectionofthe death penalty, four arguments that holdotherwiseareassessedbelow(FCNL,2000).Argument1:Thedeathpenaltydetersviolentcrimemoreeffectivelythandoes imprisonment.Although recognizing that deterrent sanctionsmaybeavalidandanecessarypartofoursystem of criminal justice, statistics used to argueboth sides fail to uphold the notion that thedeathpenaltyactsasadeterrenttohomicide.InfactFBIreportsshowthat, ingeneral,homicideratesarelowerinnondeathpenaltystates.TheSouth,whichaccounts for80percentofexecutions, repeatedlyhas thehighestmurder rate,andtheNortheast,whichaccountsforlessthan1percentofexecutions,has the lowestmurderrate (DeathPenalty InformationCenter,2000a).Although these figures do not disprove thatindividualsmay be deterred from committingmurderby theexistenceof thedeathpenalty,theydo suggest that thedeathpenalty isnotlikely tobeamoreeffectivedeterrent thananalternativesuchaslifeimprisonment.Argument 2: Families of crime victims supportthedeathpenalty(FCNL,2000).Crimevictimsfamiliesrespondtothedeathpenalty inavariety of ways. Whereas some argue forvengeanceoratonement,othersargueagainstthedeathpenaltybecause itcontinuesthecycleof violence. There are organizations aimed athealingforcrimevictims thatarecongruentwithsocial work values and ethics. For example,Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation(MVFR)opposesthedeathpenaltyandsupportstheredirectionofmoneycurrentlyspentonexecutions to victimassistance programs. Restitution Incorporatedhelpsdeath row inmates selltheirartworktosupportfamiliesoftheirvictimsor for crime prevention programs, and somegroupsseekactual reconciliationbetweenmurderersandvictimsfamilies(FCNL,2000).Argument 3: Murderers deserve to die(FCNL, 2000). Some peoplewho hold thisbelief express a desire for revenge. Althoughthisisanunderstandableemotioninthosewhohave suffered, furthering vengeance is not aresponsibleroleforthestate.Socialworkvaluesand ethical principles hold that a prisoner,regardless of the crime committed, is still ahuman being. Execution denies the inherentdignity andworth of such individuals by precludingthepossibilityofrehabilitation.Argument 4: Keeping murderers alive costssociety more than executing them (FCNL,2000). Under a vigilante system of justice,whereby a person is caught and immediatelyhanged, this argumentwould be true (FCNL,2000).However,inasocietybasedonlawsthatare concernedwith fairness,accuracy,equity,and justice, the argument is false.Numerousstudies have shown that the criminal justicesystemwould be less costly if therewere nodeathpenaltybecause thecostsarehigher inacapitalmurdercaseintermsofboththeinitialtrial and appeals (FCNL, 2000). The most comprehensive study found that thedeathpenaltycostsNorth Carolina $2.16millionmore perexecution than the costofanondeathpenaltymurdercase,withasentenceofimprisonmentfor life occurring at the trial level (DeathPenalty InformationCenter,2000b).Thus,evenwith limitsonappeals, thehigher costsat thetriallevelwouldremain. 038-041 Capital Punish.qxd 2/13/09 12:01 AM Page 4038-041 Capital Punish.qxd 2/13/09 12:01 AM Page 4CAPITALPUNISHMENTANDTHEDEATHPENALTY4CAPITALPUNISHMENTANDTHEDEATHPENALTY4 038-041 Capital Punish.qxd 2/13/09 12:01 AM Page 5ISSUESTATEMENTSocialworkerssharetheconcernsofothercitizensabouttherise inviolentcrime.Theyarevery aware of the terrible consequences to thefamiliesofthevictimsofcriminalhomicide,andindeed,many socialworkershavepersonallyexperienced the anguish caused to their ownfamilieswhenalovedonehasbeenmurdered.Itis apremiseof thispolicy statement,however,thatpunitiveactionbythestatecannevercompensate for such losses and that the deathpenalty isneitherasufficientnoranacceptablesolutiontotheproblemscausedbyviolentcrime.The following broad professional values andtheir corresponding ethical principles and specificstandards,asdelineatedintheNASWCodeofEthics(NASW,1999),undergirdsocialworkersresponsibilitytoopposethedeathpenalty.DignityandWorthofthePersonNASWs broad ethical principle that socialworkersrespect the inherentdignityandworthof each person prohibits support of the deathpenalty. Capital punishment is an officiallysanctioned violent act of killing as away todeal with lethally violent behavior. Althoughhomicide is unquestionably an act that diminishes the value and worth placed on humanbeings, the legitimization of killing throughcapital punishment alsodiminishes their valueandworth.Bothformsofkillingarethuscontradictorytothissocialworkprinciple.Thisethicalprinciplealsoappliestoeffortsby socialworkers to enhance clients capacityandopportunity forchange.Althoughmurderis a reprehensible crime, the infliction of thedeathpenaltyonpeople convictedofmurderpermanently forecloses their capacity for redemption and reform.Whereas returning individuals who have committedmurder to thecommunitymaynot serve the best interestsofsociety, life terms served in prison create thepotential for these incarcerated individuals torecognizeandheal from theemotionalwoundsthat fueled their addiction, violence, and criminalbehavior(Casarjian,1995).Finally, this ethical principle and the corresponding Code (section 6.01) obligate socialworkerstobecognizantoftheirdualresponsibility toclientsand to thebroadersocietyandto seek to resolve conflicts between clients interests and those of the broader society in asocially responsiblemannerconsistentwith thevalues,principles,and standardsof theprofession. Rather than being a deterrent to violentcrime, capital punishment legitimizes and expands thecycleofviolence insocietyat largebypromotingviolenceasasolution to intractable human problems and behaviors. By opposing the death penalty, socialworkers seeksocially responsible alternatives aimed at stopping the cycle of violence in society and theworldthatisdamaginganddestroyinghumancapacitiesandrelationships.SocialJusticeThisbroadNASWethicalprinciplestatesthatsocial workers challenge social injustice andpursue social change on behalf of vulnerableandoppressedindividualsandgroupsofpeople.Related to thisprinciple, theCodeofEthics(1999, section 4.02) prohibits social workersfrom practicing, condoning, facilitating, or collaboratingwithanyformofdiscrimination.Furthermore, the Code of Ethics holds social workersresponsible for engaging in social andpoliticalaction to prevent and eliminate domination of,exploitation of, and discrimination against anyperson,group,orclass(section6.04d)aspartoftheir responsibilities to the broader society.Thesevalues,principles,andstandardsprovidethegroundingforsocialworkerstoopposecapital punishment in that the death penalty hasalways been and continues to be differentiallyappliedtopeoplewhoarepoor,disadvantaged,of limitedmentalor intellectualcapacity,andfromethnicorracialgroups.IntheUnitedStateswhereexecutionshave increasedrapidlyoverthe past several years, studies have shown amarkedracialbiasinthedefendantsselectedforexecution (Baldus,1994;Dieter,1998;U.S.GeneralAccountingOffice,1990).POLICYSTATEMENTNASW,on thebasisof thearguments statedandgroundedinprofessionalvaluesandethicalprinciples and standards asdelineated in theCodeofEthics,maintainsthattheintegrityof 038-041 Capital Punish.qxd 2/13/09 12:01 AM Page 640SOCIALWORKSPEAKShuman life and thepromotion ofhumanwellbeingareamong thehighestvalues towhichasociety aspires. The practice of capital punishment,which involvesadeliberateactofexecutionbythestate,isthereforeatvariancewiththefundamentalvaluesofthesocialworkprofession.Thedeathpenalty isaviolationofhumanrights thatbelong to everyhumanbeing, eventhoseconvictedofseriouscrimes.IntheUnitedStates its application is arbitrary, unfair, andprone toracialbiasand targetspeoplewhoaremost vulnerable. Thus, it is the position ofNASWthat: TheU.S. government and all state authorities,whichhave laws thatprovide for capitalpunishment, should abolish thedeathpenaltyforallcrimes. Pending abolition, the U.S. federal andstate governments should impose an immediatemoratoriumonexecutions. The states that allow for the use of thedeathpenalty for crimes committed by thoseindividualsunder theageof18shouldraisetheminimumageto18,pendingamoratoriumorabolition. All states that allow the use of the deathpenalty against defendantswho havementalimpairmentsshouldenactlegislationtopreventthispractice. Federal and state authorities, pending abolition, shouldensure thatcapitaldefendantsare represented by attorneys who are adequately trained, funded, and experienced inthecomplexitiesofcapitalproceedings. In some casesNASW supports a life sentence as an alternative sentence to the deathpenalty.REFERENCESAmerican Bar Association. (1989). Guidelines forappointment and performance of counsel indeath penalty cases.Washington, DC: DeathPenaltyRepresentationProject,ABA.Amnesty International. (1998). United States ofAmerica: Rights for all.New York: AmnestyInternationalPublications.Baldus, D. (1994). Reflections on the inevitabilityofracialdiscriminationincapitalsentencing and the impossibility of itsprevention, detection, and correction.Washington&LeeLawReview,51,359,365.Baldus, D.,Woodworth, G., Zuckerman, D.,Weiner,N.A.,&Broffitt,B. (1998).Racialdiscrimination and the death penalty in thepostFurman era: An empirical and legaloverview,with recent findings fromPhiladelphia.CornellLawReview,83,16381770.Casarjian, R. (1995).Houses of healing:A prisoners guide to inner power and freedom.Boston:LionheartPress.DeathPenalty InformationCenter. (2000a, July).FBIuniformcrimereports:Murderratesper100,000 population [Online].Available:www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/murderrates.htmlDeath Penalty Information Center. (2000b,November 10). Facts about the death penalty [Online]. Available: www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/PressRoom.htmlDeathRowUSA.(2002,April1).NAACPLegalDefense and Education Fund [Online].Available: www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/DeathRowUSA1.htmlDieter,R.C. (1998, June).Thedeathpenalty inblack and white: Who lives, who dies, whodecides. Washington, DC: Death PenaltyInformationCenter.Friends Committee on National Legislation.(2000). Responding to prodeath penaltyarguments.FCNLPerspectives,3,1529.National Association of Social Workers. (1999).NASWcodeofethics.Washington,DC:Author.U.S. Department of Justice. (1997, December).Capital punishment 1996 (Bulletin NCJ167031).Washington,DC:BureauofJusticeStatistics.U.S. General Accounting Office. (1990). Deathpenalty sentencing: Research indicates patternofracialdisparities(No.5).Washington,DC:U.S.GovernmentPrintingOffice.http://www.death-penaltyinfo.org/PressRoom.htmlhttp://www.death-penaltyinfo.org/PressRoom.htmlhttp://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/ 038-041 Capital Punish.qxd 2/13/09 12:01 AM Page 7PolicystatementapprovedbytheNASWDelegateAssembly,August2002.Forfurtherinformation,contacttheNationalAssociationof Social Workers, 750 First Street, NE, Suite 700, Washington, DC 200024241. Telephone: 2024088600; email:press@naswdc.orgmailto:press@naswdc.orgmailto:press@naswdc.org

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