31 October 2012

On abolishing the death penalty.

Happy Halloween, and just in time for Halloween I’m discussing Prop 34, the ban-the-death-penalty law. No, I didn’t deliberately time it that way. Yes, I’m still writing about politics on a kids’ holiday. You don’t have to read it on Halloween, you know. You can blow it off till Election Day, as are most of the procrastinators in California; then scramble to figure out what you think… then conclude you don’t know anything, and just vote “no” on everything, or leave ’em blank.

On this one, most people already kinda know where they stand. Either they hate the death penalty, and hate that any civilized society should have to execute anybody; or they’re disturbed by the number of people who get sentenced to death, only to later be found not guilty by reason of DNA evidence; or they hate how so many ghouls rejoice at every execution, as if the only way to sate the Dark Unholy Beast of Vengeance Justice is to sacrifice more deserving criminals to it. I’m not a fan of that last thing myself.

I’ll go through the points, shall I?

Proposition 34. Death Penalty. Initiative Statute.

What I’d call it. Let’s abolish the death penalty.

The problem. Since the death penalty was reinstated in California in 1978, about 900 people have been sentenced to death. We’ve executed only 14 of them. The remainder have either died in prison, had their sentences reduced, or are still sitting in jail; as of July there were 725 death row inmates. Waiting. And appealing for a reduced sentence, or challenging anything and everything in their trials, which the law allows them to do. Housing these inmates, and paying for their decades-long appeals process, costs a bundle.

The solution. Death penalty fans would argue the real solution is to streamline the process and execute people Texas-style, where you can get convicted and executed within the year, and where they execute hundreds of inmates per year. Hundreds. Including the mentally disabled, but hey, don’t do the crime, ya retards. (Yes, I meant that ironically.)

Prop 34 says the solution is to just abolish the death penalty. Just put the program to death, so to speak. Then take that big wad of money previously spent on housing death-row inmates, on the death penalty part of a trial, and the appeals process, and give it to law enforcement so they can investigate murders and rapes.

All the death-row inmates will be commuted to life without parole, and must participate in work programs—from which money will be deducted to pay their victims.

If it doesn’t pass: Nothing changes.

Argument pro. Our system is broken and expensive, and sometimes innocent people accidentally get executed. This’ll take care of that. Now, instead of the death penalty, killers will never go free, and have to work.

Rebuttal. You want to help out guilty murderers? Law enforcement doesn’t like this law. The Californian people don’t like this law. Remember the victims.

Argument con. Really, abolishing the death penalty will cost us more in the long run, ’cause we gotta house these rats and give them healthcare. Just look at the evil scum we’ve executed so far. But the evil ACLU wants to set them free. Those bastards.

Rebuttal. Brief rehash of the argument pro.

My view. I am pro-life. That doesn’t just mean I don’t approve of abortion. That means I don’t approve of killing anyone or anything needlessly. Don’t shoot birds for fun; shoot them only when you plan to eat them. Don’t bomb Iran, no matter how catchy John McCain’s song about it was; its leaders, not its people, are the problem. And don’t execute criminals for fun; execute them only when they’re too dangerous to keep alive.

Are the death row inmates too dangerous to keep alive? Clearly not. ’Cause they’re still alive. The state Attorney General hasn’t pushed all that hard to execute them. You look at the list of the 14 people we have executed, and many of them appear to me to be just the sort of people the death penalty was created for.

And some of them weren’t. In 2008, California executed Stanely “Tookie” Williams, one of the founders of the Crips gang, who was convicted of killing four people. He may have killed more. And he didn’t helped prosecutors bust any other Crips members.

But while Williams was in prison, he started doing something productive for society: He tried to discourage kids from joining gangs. He used his notoriety to promote worthwhile causes. I don’t agree with all of them, but that’s besides the point. I also didn’t agree he should ever get out of prison, but that’s also besides the point. I didn’t feel he should be executed. Instead, I felt he should be kept alive, as a poster child, of sorts, of what sort of rehabilitation our prison system should aim for.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, then governor, had him executed anyway. Williams’s appeals had run out, and he was a high-profile murderer, and death-row murderers must die. No exceptions. Why, if we executed every murderer who tried to do good, they’d all try to do good in order to escape their date with the needle. We’d have a death row full of productive, useful citizens. Can’t have that.

Sarcasm aside, we all know that’s not actually what we’ll have. Certain death row inmates are—and let’s be blunt—mad dogs that can never, ever be let off a leash. Leashing them forever does them, nor society, any good. While we might want to keep them around in the hopes of someday rehabilitating them, they just don’t want to be rehabbed. They’re the sort of people who make the death penalty necessary.

Because life in prison is, I’m sorry to say, cruel and unusual punishment. Prison is a terrible place to live. It’s an awful life. And while the vengeful are perfectly happy for it to be as nasty as possible—they’ll even joke about prison murders and prison rapes, as if that’s a usual and natural part of the punishment—that’s not how you rehabilitate a criminal, and make them ready to return to society, which one day they will. That’s how you make them bitter, and want to take revenge on a society which put them there—only this time not get caught. If the system is so broken, why is part of the solution to warehouse people in that system?

The unrepentant, who only want to spread mayhem and chaos in the world, have prepared themselves for hell. I don’t want them to go there either, but keeping them alive in a cage for another 50 years won’t change their minds.

The prisons need reform. Lots and lots of reform. Abolishing the death penalty isn’t the way to do fix it. It’s misdirected compassion. I’m voting no.