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

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    CapitalPunishmentandtheDeathPenalty

    BACKGROUND

    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 impos

    ingthedeathpenalty.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

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    punishment.There isaproblem inotherstates,where children age 14 or younger are tried asadultsandsubjecttothedeathpenalty.On June 20, 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court

    ruledthattheexecutionofpeoplewithmentalretardationiscontrarytotheU.S.Constitution.Finally, in relation to poor people, about 90

    percentofpeople 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 greatly

    exceedsEuropeannondeathpenaltynations.DatareleasedbytheBritishHomeOfficerevealthat theUnited States,which retains thedeathpenalty, has amurder rate that ismore thanthreetimesthatofmanyofitsEuropeanalliesthathavebannedcapitalpunishment.Thedatachallengetheargumentthatthedeathpenaltyisadeterrent tomurder.Therearemore than110nationsaroundtheworldthathavebannedthedeathpenaltyinlaworpractice.

    ProDeathPenaltyArguments

    Although this policy statement asserts thatthereasonsoutlined fully justifyrejectionofthe death penalty, four arguments that holdotherwiseareassessedbelow(FCNL,2000).Argument1:Thedeathpenaltydetersviolent

    crimemoreeffectivelythandoes 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 sup

    portthedeathpenalty(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.

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    ISSUESTATEMENTSocialworkerssharetheconcernsofothercit

    izensabouttherise 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 social

    workersrespect 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 corre

    sponding Code (section 6.01) obligate socialworkerstobecognizantoftheirdualresponsi

    bility 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 thecycleof