Op-Ed: Wake Up! The case for abolishing the death penalty

Dec. 7, 2011, 12:25 a.m.

It is rare these days to find advanced first-world nations that still employ the death penalty. In fact, other countries that appear on the list of “Death Penalty Permitted” besides the United States are countries that have developed negative reputations over recent years. One of the requirements for entry into the European Union is the outlaw of capital punishment. Here at home, 34 states still practice the death penalty — California being one of them. We, and the Stanford chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, hope to take the next few minutes of your time to illustrate for you how capital punishment is in fact too costly, discriminatory and inhumane to remain in operation in California or in the rest of the United States.


Contrary to popular belief, the death penalty is more expensive than any other form of incarceration or punishment. While there is no exact national number for the costs of the death penalty, individual state studies have repeatedly and without exception found that overall, the death penalty is far more expensive than the alternative maximum sentence of life in prison without parole. In 2008, the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice released a report concluding that California alone spends over $137 million a year on implementing the death penalty, compared to the annual expenditure of just $11.5 million on inmates who face life in prison without parole. Furthermore, the Commission found that since California has averaged less than one execution every two years since it reinstituted capital punishment in 1977, each execution costs the state in excess of $250 million! Much of these costs are due to the long list of precedents set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court and the American Bar Association requiring a long, methodical procedure for capital punishment cases. As such, there are other ways of being “tough on crime” that are far less expensive and far more reliable.


Racial disparities in capital cases have been extensively documented and recorded in study after study all over the country. In the infamous Baldus Study, conducted by an award-winning law professor from the University of Iowa in conjunction with U.S. Supreme Court case McClesky v. Kemp, 1987, it was found that black defendants were almost twice as likely to receive a sentencing of death than whites, and that murderers of white victims were about four times more likely to be sentenced to death than those who killed blacks. While blacks and whites are victims of homicides in roughly equal numbers nationwide, 80 percent of those executed are cases involving white victims. Since 1976, Texas has carried out over a third of the national total of executions (470 out of 1,257), but among of those, only one execution involved a white murderer and a black victim. Although blacks constitute only 12 percent of the national population, they are disproportionately represented in our criminal justice system, making up 41 percent of the national prison population and 42 percent of all inmates on death row. It is also worthwhile to note that 98 percent of the District Attorneys in death penalty states are white, and that racial biases against minorities and the poor exist at all levels within the system, from charging and sentencing to the ultimate imposition of death.


Finally, the death penalty is inherently cruel and inhumane. Our federal government was founded with the sole obligation to protect its citizens — not to kill its own people. An eye for an eye, a death for a death cannot be an acceptable rationale for the death penalty. Just as the penalty for rape cannot be to rape the rapist, and the penalty for arson cannot be to burn down the arsonists’ house, the death penalty is just as absurd a punishment for murder. Capital sentencing is especially merciless given the fact that we know it to be racially and economically biased. Since 1973 there have been 139 exonerations from death row, not counting the numerous executions in cases where serious doubt was raised as to the guilt of the executed post-conviction (e.g., Troy Davis).


We urge you to consider the facts and consequences of capital punishment, and if you feel so moved, to sign the NAACP’s petition to grant Troy Davis’ final wish and end the death penalty.


Torryn Taylor ‘13 & Mariama Mallah ‘15
Stanford NAACP Criminal Justice Committee

The Daily is committed to publishing a diversity of op-eds and letters to the editor. We’d love to hear your thoughts. Email letters to the editor to eic ‘at’ stanforddaily.com and op-ed submissions to opinions ‘at’ stanforddaily.com.

Login or create an account