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"We thought we would empty death row, not triple its population."
February 12, 2012 2:02 PM   Subscribe

"Each of us remains a staunch Republican conservative, but our perspectives on the death penalty have changed.... Each of us, independently, has concluded that the death penalty isn't working for California." The authors of California's Death Penalty Act of 1978, which expanded use of the death penalty in the state, have publicly endorsed the SAFE Initiative to abolish capital punishment in California. (Previously)
posted by scody (26 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
I've said this for years: there is absolutely nothing conservative about the death penalty. I can think of no better example of big government than the one that can kill it's citizens with premeditation.
posted by deadmessenger at 2:09 PM on February 12, 2012 [19 favorites]


It only took them 33 years to see the light.

Thus, the arc of the moral universe bends just a little bit more.
posted by darkstar at 2:16 PM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Lots of good stuff in that third link:

Former San Quentin Warden Jeanne Woodford, who presided over four executions for the State of California, is speaking out in support of reform. She said that regardless of one's moral position on capital punishment, the evidence shows it to be an utter failure of public policy. Life-without-parole is less expensive than capital punishment; more punishing to killers; offers clear legal closure for victims' families; does not subject prison employees to the emotional trauma of executions; and can be ended if a convict is exonerated later, she said.

The high cost of the death penalty, together with serious concerns about its reliability and questions about its usefulness in promoting public safety, has led a number of states to change their laws. Most recently, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber, who oversaw two executions, suspended the state's death penalty. “I do not believe that those executions made us safer," he said last month. "Certainly I don’t believe they made us more noble as a society."

My first year in college, I debated against the death penalty for a class. When we started, there was only one other person against the death penalty, who was on my team. As time when on and people researched their topics, more and more people who had originally volunteered to debate in favor of the death penalty changed their positions and joined my team. I've generally found that when people take the time to thoughtfully do even a little bit of research on the subject, they come away from it pretty strongly against the death penalty.

Also, as time goes on, I read more and more stories about wardens and prison officers - the people who are closest to the process - coming out against the death penalty. I really hope that as a society we are collectively beginning to realize how fruitless and barbaric it is and start to move in the opposite direction. I do believe we are trending that way, but it is taking a long time.
posted by triggerfinger at 2:28 PM on February 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


Thou shalt not kill.
posted by Malor at 2:38 PM on February 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


I read more and more stories about wardens and prison officers - the people who are closest to the process - coming out against the death penalty.

This is an excellent point.

Walter Stewart was one of the men executed in Illinois before the moratorium that eventually led to abolition was put into place. In his case, there was no question of innocence; the legal issue at play was competency of his original counsel. Additionally, Stewart had become a model prisoner while incarcerated; he helped tutor other inmates in literacy programs, for example, and had become a respected mediator between various prison gangs.

I was at Walter Stewart's clemency hearing and was stunned that the prison warden personally pleaded with the Illinois Clemency Board and Gov. Edgar to commute Stewart's sentence on these grounds. This was the first time I realized clearly that there were people inside the system who were being compelled to go along with administering a punishment they didn't agree with (whether in part or in whole).
posted by scody at 2:54 PM on February 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Since when do facts inform politics?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 3:10 PM on February 12, 2012


This is a good thing.
posted by SLC Mom at 3:13 PM on February 12, 2012


life without parole is more punishing to killers

This always comes up when arguing against the death penalty, but nobody ever wants to give people with life a break by killing them.

Regardless, it's certainly true that the death penalty as practiced is not a good idea, as is the case with much of our large-scale attempts at justice.
posted by michaelh at 3:15 PM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Staunch conservative republicans have been telling us for decades that government can't work, can't do anything right, has too much power, etc. And yet somehow, unfailingly supporting government's ability to competently and honestly administer the death penalty makes perfect sense to these people, a belief held as such a cornerstone of American conservatism, to claim otherwise is an egregious heresy.

The obvious irony that the death penalty does much to buttress conservative notion about the ineptitude of government. Yet they're still damn near commanded to support it unquestioningly. To say otherwise is to jeopardize one's standing among peers. So much so that these former supporters are compelled to declare their conservative bona fides preemptively.

I'm thankful that these conservative Republicans are admitting what has been known for decades now: that implementing the death penalty was going to be more costly and burdensome than alternative sentencing. Good luck convincing their faith driven peers.
posted by 2N2222 at 3:35 PM on February 12, 2012 [11 favorites]


Since when do facts inform politics?

Given the strong support of the SAFE Initiative across the political spectrum, there may be reason to be cautiously optimistic that this, in fact, may be one of those times.
posted by scody at 3:36 PM on February 12, 2012


What does 'staunch Republican Conservative' even mean anymore?
posted by spicynuts at 3:55 PM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


[i]I've said this for years: there is absolutely nothing conservative about the death penalty. I can think of no better example of big government than the one that can kill it's citizens with premeditation.[/i]

"Big" in what sense? It wouldn't be big government, in what I think is the typical conservative definition of the term, if the killing were done quickly, efficiently, with little bureaucratic overhead. If it were in fact less resource-hungry than imprisoning people for life.

But in California it isn't, and that is why the Briggses are endorsing SAFE. Not because they've decided in retrospect that their views on the morals of state killing were wrong.
posted by magic curl at 4:03 PM on February 12, 2012


I didn't know that a death penalty was more expensive than a life sentence, but it makes sense once you consider the amount of litigation associated with it.

And don't worry, the government can't do anything right except capital punishment, privatization, and the management of nuclear weapons. Those they excel at. Oh, and de-regulation. And insider trading.

I would be really curious to hear what other sorts of things the former prison warden/employee crowd is against. Anecdotally, their lobby, especially in CA, is said to be a driving force behind the criminalization of sundry mundane events between non-criminals.
posted by feloniousmonk at 4:06 PM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Big" in what sense? It wouldn't be big government, in what I think is the typical conservative definition of the term, if the killing were done quickly, efficiently, with little bureaucratic overhead. If it were in fact less resource-hungry than imprisoning people for life.


Every execution starts with a person being snatched off the street by government police, a case built by a different set of government police detectives, accused by a government prosecutor, indicted by a government-empaneled grand jury, tried by another government prosecutor before a government judge and another government-empaneled jury, most often defended by a government-paid defense attorney, after conviction held in a government prison and guarded by government prison guards while a new set of government lawyers argue both sides of the case before a different set government judges (a process that is typically repeated several times). Then, after the last set of government attorneys and government judges give the green light, a different set of government prison guards strap the prisoner down to a government gurney and, while carefully following a government process, inject government chemicals into his arm until he or she is dead. Oh, and then more often than not buried in a government potter's field.

That's a hell of a lot of government right there, and if all that government isn't big government, then I'm not sure the term has any meaning at all.

And, it does cost less to imprison a prisoner for life as opposed to executing them. That's not really something that even the most fervent pro-deathers argue any more.
posted by deadmessenger at 4:20 PM on February 12, 2012


It wouldn't be big government, in what I think is the typical conservative definition of the term, if the killing were done quickly, efficiently, with little bureaucratic overhead.
You also need accurately: Even people who (like myself) don't find anything morally objectionable about executing murderers are often appalled at our track record of executing 10% or so innocent people in the process. An almost analogous moral dilemma occurs when imprisoning kidnappers, fining thieves, etc., but at least when a miscarriage of justice occurs in those cases there's a chance it can be remedied afterward.

And you need free from moral hazard: as deadmessenger alluded to, small-government types don't just object to a law based on what its immediate implementation is likely to look like, but rather based on what opportunities for abuse it sets up in the future. (by "don't" here I mean "shouldn't", but each change of President seems to smoke out a whole lot of putative skeptics who really only cared about abuse of powers in the hands of The Other Party). And the ability to have people killed is practically the ultimate in potential abuse.
posted by roystgnr at 4:27 PM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


Radley Balko: Why Americans Still Support The Death Penalty
posted by homunculus at 4:54 PM on February 12, 2012


I was at Walter Stewart's clemency hearing

scody, have you ever thought about contacting a biophysics lab? I only ask because your life seems to be a storm of low-probability events and there may be something in your body that's affecting how quantum events collapse.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:59 PM on February 12, 2012 [3 favorites]




But in California it isn't, and that is why the Briggses are endorsing SAFE. Not because they've decided in retrospect that their views on the morals of state killing were wrong.

Maybe not the Briggses, but Donald Heller -- the former prosecutor who helped write Prop 7 in the first place -- most certainly changed his mind about the morality of state-sponsored killing.
posted by scody at 5:51 PM on February 12, 2012


I'm against the death penalty in all cases except one: police and prosecutors that push DP cases forward despite overwhelming contrary evidence.
posted by notsnot at 6:15 PM on February 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm against the death penalty in all cases except one: police and prosecutors that push DP cases forward despite overwhelming contrary evidence.

Political scions and their idiot sons who falsely propagandize for war to enrich their defense contractor buddies would also be a nice include.

And all their friends. and All the friends of their friends. And so on through the usual six degrees of separation.
posted by clarknova at 6:52 PM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I only ask because your life seems to be a storm of low-probability events and there may be something in your body that's affecting how quantum events collapse.

You know what? Everybody's life is a storm of low-probability events. Indeed, the more dramatic events in your life are often not the low-probability ones at all. They may be if you average the chance over the population, but for that person?

When you look at the corpus of scody's comments and posts, it's not amazing that she was there. When you look at where she lived and what she did in the past, it would be amazing if she hadn't been.
posted by eriko at 7:45 PM on February 12, 2012


yeah, I wasn't quite sure how to take that comment, either. There were about a dozen executions during the time I lived in Illinois, and about a dozen men who left death row after being exonerated during the same period. I was deeply involved in the Campaign to End the Death Penalty -- I've made no secret of my involvement, as well -- and the push for a moratorium, and so went to most Clemency board hearings during that time. At Walter Stewart's hearing, in particular, I was there to present the board with thousands of signatures we'd gathered on petitions to try to save his life. Besides the fact that, yes, most other people in Illinois weren't there that night pleading for his life, I don't know why that's such a "low probability" event.
posted by scody at 8:48 PM on February 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think ROU_Xenophobe's comment should be understood and taken as a complement, not an exclamation of incredulity. I think scody's life and experience are amazing as well, and I'm glad we get to hear about it here on metafilter from time to time.
posted by jabberjaw at 10:28 AM on February 13, 2012


yep, I realize now it was one of those funny tone things on the internet! Sorry for raising an eyebrow, ROU_Xenophobe, at your comment. Sorry if I derailed the discussion, as well, so I hope people will continue with the topic if they like. I would write more, but David Bowie has just stopped by to chat. Hello, David Bowie!
posted by scody at 11:41 AM on February 13, 2012


Also sorry to have derailed the discussion. I think it was a background thought about how scody was had more than her share of various randomnesses gifted unto her and inflicted upon her. Like Nicoll Events but not as uniformly dangerous. It shouldn't have been prompted by that example but was anyway.

There was no incredulity. I think I can comfortably speak for the entire physical universe when I say that being bored by or incredulous to the tales of your life is just about physically impossible.

posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:10 PM on February 13, 2012


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