Police Chiefs to Death Penalty: Drop Dead

October 20, 2009

The Death Penalty Information Center released a new study today on the high costs, and lack of real benefits, associated with capital punishment in the United States.  The report, called Smart on Crime:  Reconsidering the Death Penalty in a Time of Economic Crisis, also includes the results of a poll of 500 randomly selected U.S. police chiefs who by a more than 2 to 1 margin reject the idea that the death penalty is a deterrent (an assessment confirmed by criminologists),  and, also by a greater than 2 to 1 margin, believe that the death penalty is used as a tough-on-crime symbol by politicians. 

“Greater use of the death penalty” was listed as the best way to reduce violent crime by only 1% (that’s one percent) of the chiefs surveyed, and only 2% (3% in the South) believed that “insufficient use of the death penalty” interferes with effective law enforcement.

And use of the death penalty is declining anyway.  For almost a decade the numbers of death sentences and executions have continued to drop.  As Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, told CNN “…the death penalty is turning into an expensive form of life without parole.”

Given the current economic crisis, which is hitting state budgets very hard (see pages 12-13 of the report for examples), maintaining a system that doesn’t work, is used less and less,  and yet still costs a fortune is difficult to justify.  As the report observes: “The money spent to preserve this failing system could be directed to effective programs that make society safer.”  In the poll, the police chiefs chose expanded training for officers, community policing, drug and alcohol abuse programs, and neighborhood watch programs all as better uses of limited criminal justice resources.

The death penalty is a grave human rights abuse, a cruel and degrading punishment.  But, for those who don’t see it that way, shouldn’t we listen to law enforcement and focus our taxpayer dollars on real public safety measures?