Friday, June 27, 2008

Child Rape Does Not = Death

Finally I get to revisit the verdict on the case I outlined in a previous post here.

On Wednesday, in a split 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty is unconstitutional for the crime of child rape. For those with a little free time, here is the decision in its entirety.

Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority, stated that there is a "distinction between intentional first-degree murder on the one hand and nonhomicide crimes against individual persons, even including child rape".

I know for a fact that there are several people whom I work with who will disagree vehemently with this decision. I cannot hold that against them. We see some of the worst of what human beings can do to one another. Of course it creates a jaded perspective. I, however, support the Supreme Court decision. My thoughts on the death penalty for violent homicides still remain conflicted. As a result, I find it easier than my colleagues to draw a line when it comes to child rape.

In pondering this decision, I came across this piece concerning Barrack Obama's support for the death penalty in cases of child rape where he stated:
I think that the rape of a small child, six or eight years old, is a heinous crime and if a state makes a decision that under narrow, limited, well-defined circumstances the death penalty is at least potentially applicable, that that does not violate our Constitution.
His opinion saddened me and I cannot quite put my finger on why. If forced to take a guess, I would say it is because it seems to me that by supporting the death penalty in cases such as these where the victim did not lose a life (no...I am not suggesting that the victim's life has not been irrevocably altered, but that there is still a life to be led) it makes us an equally violent society.

Violence against women and children exists each and every day. Putting someone to death for it does not deter any number of other men who choose to wield their power in heinous ways. Perhaps more of a focus on equality and respect would serve us better.


Since LaPH challenged me to scrounge up some statistics on the death penalty, I managed to track down some very intriguing numbers. For anyone wanting a starting point to research the death penalty, I highly recommend the Death Penalty Information Center, which was where I began my search. The amount of time that could be spent tracking down valid statistics supporting the abolishment of the death penalty is mind-boggling, so you have to forgive me for taking a highly condensed approach.

(1) Statistics comparing crime rates in countries with/without the death penalty.

First let me point to the statistics between death penalty states and non-death penalty states here in the USA. The overall picture can be seen by following this link.

The summarized version of the statistics indicate that states without the death penalty have a consistently lower homicide rate:
When comparisons are made between states with the death penalty and states without, the majority of death penalty states show murder rates higher than non-death penalty states. The average of murder rates per 100,000 population in 1999 among death penalty states was 5.5, whereas the average of murder rates among non-death penalty states was only 3.6. A look at neighboring death penalty and non-death penalty states show similar trends. Death penalty states usually have a higher murder rate than their neighboring non-death penalty states.
That trend is mimicked in countries without the death penalty sentence as well. In fact, when one looks at countries with the death penalty, the USA is in some sketchy company. According to Amnesty International, "In 2006 91 percent of all known executions took place in China, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Pakistan and the USA."

By following the same Amnesty link above, one can find the following:
Reviewing the evidence on the relation between changes in the use of the death penalty and crime rates, the study conducted for the United Nations cited above stated: "The fact that all the evidence continues to point in the same direction is persuasive a priori evidence that countries need not fear sudden and serious changes in the curve of crime if they reduce their reliance upon the death penalty".

Recent crime figures from abolitionist countries fail to show that abolition has harmful effects. In Canada, for example, the homicide rate per 100,000 population fell from a peak of 3.09 in 1975, the year before the abolition of the death penalty for murder, to 2.41 in 1980, and since then it has declined further. In 2003, 27 years after abolition, the homicide rate was 1.73 per 100,000 population, 44 per cent lower than in 1975 and the lowest rate in three decades. Although this increased to 2.0 in 2005, it remains over one-third lower than when the death penalty was abolished.
(2) The death penalty as a means of deterrence.

From the Death Penalty Information Center:
A survey of experts from the American Society of Criminology, the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences, and the Law and Society Association showed that the overwhelming majority did not believe that the death penalty is a proven deterrent to homicide. Over 80% believe the existing research fails to support a deterrence justification for the death penalty. Similarly, over 75% of those polled do not believe that increasing the number of executions, or decreasing the time spent on death row before execution, would produce a general deterrent effect.
And again from Amnesty International:
Scientific studies have consistently failed to find convincing evidence that the death penalty deters crime more effectively than other punishments. The most recent survey of research findings on the relation between the death penalty and homicide rates, conducted for the United Nations in 1988 and updated in 2002, concluded: "... it is not prudent to accept the hypothesis that capital punishment deters murder to a marginally greater extent than does the threat and application of the supposedly lesser punishment of life imprisonment."
Now, of course the research cited above comes from sources that clearly are against the death penalty. However, I am not one so cynical to think that the numbers have been doctored to support the cause. Nothing I have ever seen seems to suggest that, as it is applied now at the very least, the death penalty is a remotely successful method of punishment or deterrence. At minimum, it provides society with a moment of emotional release...a means of dealing with extreme violence. I do not find that to be a sufficient reason.


Anonymous said...

Woot! Score one for reason!

I say insted of this revenge-mindedness people seem to have, we should see how the accused could atone for their crimes. I think perhaps a small lifelong wage garnisment would do the trick, with the funding generated going to organizations who help victems of sexual crimes. This plan would be very difficult to carry out if the convict was killed!

Habladora said...

This is a very difficult issue, and I certainly understand where Obama -and others who support the death penalty in cases such as these- is coming from. Can you point us to any statistics that compare crime rates in countries with and without the death penalty, or that shed any light on whether or not the death penalty serves as a deterrent?

Habladora said...

I am also skeptical about the 'wage garnishment' idea for those convicted of rape. For any sentence we might deem appropriate, there are three possible goals:
1. to remove a dangerous individual from society
2. to create a threat of punishment that could serve as a deterrent
3. to provide a chance to reform individuals
Garnishing wages would not fulfill the first goal of removing the individual from society. I think that quite a large percentage of the wages would have to be taken for it to serve as a possible deterrent, and it risks sending the message that you can buy the right to harm another individual. As for reform, it seems unlikely to me that merely putting an individual in a more difficult financial situation would lead to reform.

Mächtige Maus said...

Statistics? want me to provide something like research and sound reasoning? You think I am some sort of scientist or something? Oh, wait...

Well, I'll see what I can do to track down some numbers, but I make no promises.

daedalus2u said...

I noticed that this post was missing just when I was about to post a comment, so I posted a comment at the earlier post on the same subject. I will post it again here but I will add some more because I feel like a spammer just posting something identical, and I am slightly older and wiser now ;)

I finally realized why I find this so objectionable. It is all about the perpetrator, nothing about the victim. How much is being spent to bring the perpetrator to "justice"? How much is being spent to mitigate the injury done to the victim?

A "fair" death penalty trial costs many millions and costs twice as much as a non-death penalty trial. How much rehabilitative care and support is the victim going to get? They would be lucky to get even a few thousand.

For the state to spend millions to execute someone and nothing to help his (I use the male pronoun because virtually all perpetrators of rape are male) victim is a gross waste. The perpetrator is guaranteed medical care including mental health medical care as long as he is incarcerated. The victim gets nothing.

Making the maximum penalty life in prison without parole and then using the savings to rehabilitate the victim would be cost neutral and would be a better outcome.

I think the statistics on the death penalty not being a deterrent are correct. The existence of the death penalty asserts that there are circumstances where killing someone in cold blood (i.e. not in self-defense) are legally and morally justifiable. It isn't much of a stretch for someone to then justify to themselves that their application of the death penalty (i.e. killing someone) is ok.

It isn't about "justice", it is about prosecutors wanting to be "tough". It is about being "tough", not being effective at deterring or preventing crime or mitigating the damage that has been done.

The wage garnishment idea is bogus. It won't work and a small lifetime wage garnishment isn't going to help the victim enough to matter. The cost of the trial and incarceration is likely going to be more than the perpetrator will ever make in his life.

You know how this is going to be used, a gay 18 year old will be executed for having sex with a gay 17 year old.

Mächtige Maus said...

Oops...sorry for the brief disappearing act, daedalus2u. LaPH threw down the statistics challenge so I was forced to edit the initial post. It's a wee bit funny that I decided to do so right as you were about to comment. I just posted your extended version so no double post for you. :)

It is true that the system does give the majority of the focus to the perpetrator. I'm not sure how that is avoided in our innocent until proven guilty system.

I imagine those families who are trying to struggle with the aftermath of extreme violence (homicide or child rape) are even more inclined to latch on to the death penalty concept because it provides an element of finality...a final form of justice for a victim who almost immediately becomes marginalized by the system.

daedalus2u said...

Make the focus on prevention and healing the victim and not on retribution.

The problem with our "justice" system is that the whole concept of it is deterrence. Deterring individuals from committing a crime because bad stuff will happen to them if they are caught. Deterrence doesn't work for some crimes. How is fear of going to prison supposed to deter someone addicted who is already injecting drugs with needles infected with HIV? The "war on drugs" is a complete failure. It is actually worse than a failure, it is taking non-violent drug users putting them in prison where they learn how to become violent offenders. One reason that people enter law enforcement is so they can be "tough" on crime and criminals. If you treat people harshly they become more violent. That is known as the cycle of violence.

What we should do, is structure our society, our laws, our law enforcement and our criminal justice system to minimize the harm that crime does to our society. Minimize the harm in both the short term (by removing criminals so they can't commit more crimes) and in the long term by deterring crime and by giving people non-criminal ways to live good lives.

My perception is that a large part of how society is being managed is to induce desperation in people, make people desperate so they will do desperate things and then exploiting that desperation. That was the strategy of Bush and Rove following 9/11. The strategy of $4/gallon gasoline, the strategy of food vs fuel, of immigrants vs working poor, no job vs "volunteering" for military service.

If someone becomes desperate enough, they will do anything. Deterrence cannot work with sufficiently desperate people.

I think that has been a traditional method for keeping women "in their place". Don't allow them any other options, so they have to remain in an abusive marriage.

Mächtige Maus said...

From daedalus2u: The "war on drugs" is a complete failure. It is actually worse than a failure, it is taking non-violent drug users putting them in prison where they learn how to become violent offenders.

How very true. And, in addition to the unintended effect of creating a more violent individual, the current war on drugs creates a prison system that cannot handle those who truly deserve to be behind bars for a more extended period of time. What you end up with is a revolving door letting violent offenders right back out on the streets.