Are Millennials For Or Against The Death Penalty?

Last week, the Death Penalty Information Center Three released statistics saying that roughly 23 percent of practicing Christians born between 1980 and 2000 supported the death penalty, and only 32 percent of millennials total supported the death penalty. What was the cause for change? The United States spends millions on convicting and executing criminals on death row, but is that wisely spent? Does the death penalty take care of larger problems such as abuse, or do these problems get worse?

Mark Elliot, the director of Floridians for Alternatives To The Death Penalty, said about costs: “The best estimate is that the death penalty costs us taxpayers an extra fifty million dollars a year. That’s almost a million dollars a week.”

Indeed, a study done by Loyola Law School says that California has spent $4 million on the death penalty ever since reinstating it in 2011, and that costs expect to rise to $9 billion by 2030.

“The cost studies fail because they don’t provide an apples to apples comparison of the death penalty vs LWOP, which is required to make any rational judgement and/or they are very incomplete and/or they are very dishonest, as Nevada’s, wherein they left out 11 executions, which occurred within 4.5 years of appeals, on average, meaning, in reality, the death penalty must be less expensive than life without parole (LWOP) in Nevada,” said Dudley Sharp, former vice president of Justice for All and currently helping run prodeathpenalty.com.

Alive prisoners do need shelter, food and healthcare. So how does money influence what 20-somethings think about the death penalty?

congenitaldisease posted on her tumblr: “It’s a waste of money. Literally hundreds of millions of dollars are being wasted on a response to murder which is calculated to be carried out on a small amount of unlucky people per year and which has done nothing to stem the rise in murder, which is therefor (sp) ineffective.”

“We are only perpetuating endless cycles of violence upon violence.”

But morals remain one of the key factors determining stances for or against the death penalty. Is assigning death penalty charges to those who commit heinous crimes fix epidemics like abuse?

In the case of Lisa Ann Coleman, when she was granted the death penalty in 2006 for her role in the death of her partner’s nine-year-old, prosecutor Mitch Poe said in a report the day that Coleman was granted the death penalty: “The fact that a female has gotten the death penalty for killing a child, it’s a step forward for bringing child abuse out of the darkness of people’s homes and into the light of day.”

But was he right?

“Well, it doesn’t solve any problems. The only problem it definitely solves are a bunch of problems that local prosecutors and state attorneys may have with funding,” Elliot said.

Sharp has a different sentiment. “My theory, which I find has solid support, is that the root cause of murder is not enough respect for innocent lives. The root causes of crime, and solving those problems, has never been the purpose of sanction and, rationally, never should be….Sanction is based within justice, a proportional response to the crime, which also has the secondary benefits of safety for society, deterrence and reformation of some criminals,” Sharp said.

However, the death penalty is said to have two types of effects.

Nicholas Peterson, an assistant professor at the University of Miami who has written various articles on the death penalty, said in a phone interview: “It’s mainly supposed to be a deterrent in the sense that if you see somebody being executed for a particular crime, that’s supposed to deter you from wanting to make that same kind of crime. It can also be seen as a form of incapacitation, by actually killing somebody, you prevent that individual from committing a crime in the future…so, it’s a little bit of both in theory, but it’s supposed to be more of a deterrent.”

Essentially, seeing someone get killed for something should stop people from going out and doing the same thing. However, Peterson said that various factors such as the influence of drugs or alcohol have people go out and commit violent acts, despite punishment. Mental illness can be another factor, such as with Herbert Mullin, who felt that murdering people would stop earthquakes in California.

But some millennials think the death penalty is a deterrent from the actual problem.

“Violence is committed by those who are trapped in fear and in the most pain. When we add to their pain by committing violence against them, we are only perpetuating endless cycles of violence upon violence,” wrote a Jesse White to the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty tumblr.

The way that society sees the death penalty in general could also affect how millennials see it. Pope Francis recently spoke out against the execution of a Georgia inmate named Kelly Renee Gissendaner last Tuesday, asking the Georgia board of pardons and paroles, “I nonetheless implore you, in consideration of the reasons that have been expressed to your board, to commute the sentence to one that would better express both justice and mercy.”

It’s obvious that the opinion of a world religious leader may affect the opinions of his followers.

“The main reason a majority of 20-somethings may be against the death penalty (if they are) is because 1) the media is, overwhelmingly, anti death penalty;  2) the majority in academia are anti death penalty;  3) the anti death penalty movement is highly organized and hugely funded; 4) there is no pro death penalty movement,” Dudley Sharp, a pro death penalty advocate wrote in an email to Rise News. “There’s a saying that the more you know about the death penalty, the less you like it, because people find out more about it, that’s the key. Then, if they have the information to make an informed decision. Most of the time, they’ll see that even if they agreed with, you know, the theory of the death penalty, an eye for an eye, but then practiced as a government program, it makes too many mistakes, it’s expensive, and it diverts their most valuable resources from where they could do so much good to protect the public and really improve criminal justice…”

Essentially, the way that a society utilizes the death penalty changes how people see it. Peterson spoke on Europe’s use of the death penalty.

“Just recently until the past couple of decades, they’ve had the death penalty, and because of changes in their laws and in public opinion, they no longer have the death penalty, so to them, it means the death penalty means something very different because it’s no longer an acceptable form of punishment in their society,” Peterson said.

Florida State University Professor Emeritus Gordon Waldo said in a phone interview that out of the 37 countries in the world that use the death penalty, some of them use it mostly for political reasons. “They sometimes just execute people to get rid of the complaints.”

Social context is applicable as well-Waldo also spoke of a period in the ‘70s in the United States where the death penalty was ruled unconstitutional because it was used in a discriminatory manner.

A variety of things can reflect how twenty somethings view the death penalty, from money to ethics to the world around them. Logic behind these stances for or against the death penalty differ from person to person. The most crucial takeaway to determine your stance is to research immensely, be informed and decide accordingly.

Cover Photo Credit: David Shankbone/Flickr (CC by 2.0)

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