Earlier this month, former Attorney General William Barr ordered the execution of two federal inmates, Brandon Bernard and Alfred Bourgeois, concluding a spree of state-sanctioned killings that ended the lives of ten individuals in the middle of a global pandemic. Closer to home, Arkansas remains one of the twenty-eight states that still perform capital punishment, with the most recent execution being performed in 2017. We as Catholics have a moral responsibility to spread Jesus’ teachings, and part of this responsibility includes protecting the lives of inmates on death row. If the Church is serious about the sixth commandment, it must continue to call out murder in all of its various forms, and that includes calling out the death penalty.
The state legislature of Arkansas should immediately abolish capital punishment in our state and end this heinous practice once and for all. The death penalty is ineffective at reducing crime, blatantly racist, and overly expensive. First, despite what supporters of this policy may claim, capital punishment has no effect on murder rates and is not linked to reduction of violent crime. In fact, according the Death Penalty Information Center, a nonpartisan, independent organization, as of 2018, the murder rate in states without the death penalty is on average 30% lower than states that still use capital punishment. Next, the death penalty harms black and brown communities, exploiting systemic racism in our criminal justice system and preying on marginalized groups. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, people of color disproportionately represent 43% of those executed since 1973, and they currently represent the majority of those awaiting capital punishment. African Americans, in particular, are negatively impacted by the death penalty, and if Catholics are serious about protecting life, this includes black lives, which are disproportionately and unfairly cut short by this policy. Finally, the death penalty is expensive. Contrary to what many may believe, it actually costs significantly more to execute individuals than to sentence them to prison for the rest of their lives. A study was conducted in Maryland by the Urban Institute in which data researchers analyzed the cost of the death penalty and concluded that, on average, the state spent nearly two million dollars more on a death penalty case than on cases in which the prosecutors declined to seek capital punishment. The death penalty is simply not serving its intended purposes while also unnecessarily draining resources in the process.
But perhaps most important is the inherent immorality of the death penalty. Prison should serve as a place to be rehabilitated, and no matter how heinous the crime, everyone deserves the chance to become a better person. The death penalty, however, strips the condemned of this chance. It cuts their life short. We as a society have decided that some people aren’t even worth rehabilitating, and it is wrong. Everyone deserves a second chance at life, and for our criminal justice system to determine single-handedly whether or not someone deserves to live or die is untenable. Let us heed the word of Pope Francis, who has said that, “The death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person.” Let us spread Jesus’ teachings. Let us educate others about this topic. And finally, let us lead with truth and light and reject capital punishment.
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