These are the results of giving the state the power to determine who deserves death.
Innocent people sentenced to death
Since 1973, over 160 former death row inmates have been found innocent and exonerated in the United States. [source]
It is not clear how many innocent people have been executed, but some studies estimate the innocence rate may be as high as 4%. [source]
From 2000-2011, there was an average of 5 death row exonerations per year. [source]
unfair application among the guilty
Men are drastically more likely to receive death sentences. As of fall 2018, women make up just 2% of the total death row population. [source]
Note: one interpretation of this statistic could lead to the incorrect conclusion that black Americans are more likely to commit violent crimes. However, reports which analyze crime statistics across both race and economic status find that the latter is the factor which most accurately predicts whether a person will commit crime. In other words: low-income, black Americans have roughly the same likelihood of committing crime as low-income, white Americans. [source] Black Americans tend to receive harsher sentences for the same crimes because of racism in the judicial process (particularly during jury selection). [source]
Race of the victim also seems to play a large role in sentencing. A study in California found that those convicted of killing white people were more than three times as likely to be sentenced to death as those convicted of killing black people, and more than four times more likely as those convicted of killing Latino people. [source]
no effect on crime rates
The death penalty does not work as a deterrent for crime. States which have abolished the death penalty experienced no change in their murder rates. [source]
A poll of 500 police chiefs found that they don't view the death penalty as an effective deterrent. [source]
"I wish I could tell you that the state of Alabama made an honest mistake. I wish I could tell you that it had nothing to do with the color of my skin...but when I was convicted, the prosecutor said: 'We don't have the right n***** today, but at least we got a n***** off the street.'"
–Anthony Ray Hinton.
“Incarceration Reform” Spring Lecture, hosted by the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, in Pittsburgh, PA. March 15, 2019.
Rehumanize International adheres to the belief that the right to life is inalienable. All human beings deserve the right to life by virtue of their humanity, which is intrinsic and unchanging. No extrinsic quality, such as guilt, can be used to revoke that right.
After all, guilt and moral culpability are on a spectrum. On one end, you have the child in the womb or a newborn infant — someone perfectly innocent of any wrongdoing. On the other end, you have serial killers and dictators who have caused the deaths of millions. The majority of humanity falls somewhere in the middle.
In order to justify capital punishment, a line would have to be drawn somewhere along this spectrum to decide which human beings are guilty enough to deserve death.
Can we trust the government to draw that line? Can we trust the government to choose who lives and who dies?
The widespread availability of nonviolent ways to keep society safe from violent criminals renders capital punishment unnecessary. At best, its continued use amounts to useless vengeance; at worst, as we can see from the statistics above, it opens the door for deadly discrimination.
The death penalty is the most final and fatal form of retributive justice — that is, justice which aims for retribution. This approach to justice views all crimes as offenses against the state instead of as harms against another individual. It is inherently anti-personal because it does not seek to repair relationships between the offender and the offended; in fact, the needs of the offended party really don't come into the picture. The focus is entirely on broken rules and punishment.
In contrast to this, at Rehumanize International, we advocate for restorative justice. We believe that in order to build true justice and reduce recidivism, we must shift our focus towards restoring relationships between the offender, the offended, and the community as a whole.
A system of justice ought be based in the inherent dignity of the human person — the dignity of both the offender and the offended. We should seek a model that makes amends and seeks to generate positive outcomes rather than preferring to ensure a balance of harm.
A current example of a partially Restorative Justice model within our modern US justice system is the Drug Courts model that has been instituted in various jurisdictions around the nation — including in Pittsburgh, PA (which is where we are headquartered). Note: because we only focus on issues of violence against human beings, Rehumanize International does not take a stance on drug criminalization; we look to these Drug Courts merely as a realistic example of how restorative justice could be implemented. The model works by offenders of nonviolent drug crimes first acknowledging the wrong they committed, acknowledging their addiction, then seeking to repair the addiction and harms done through community involvement and service, and then working to reduce recidivism by healing addiction and building supportive communities to maintain accountability.
The process is both reasonably uniform and profoundly personal, and according to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, 75% of graduates of the Drug Court model remain arrest-free two years after graduation, and family reunification rates are 50% higher for Drug Court participants than the normal for drug offenders. According to the National Institute of Justice, the drug court model is reducing recidivism anywhere from 17 to 26 percent, and saving our system a ton of money – upwards of $6700 per participant – because treatment of addiction is cheaper than repeat prison stays. This drug court model much more effectively achieves the goals of justice than the normal retributive model used for drug offenders, achieving input from all parties, restoration to family and community, and a massive reduction in recidivism.
By rejecting violence and by being based in person-to-person restitution, this Restorative model respects human dignity; by effectively involving the offender and the offended and the community involved in creating justice, it reduces recidivism (and therefore cost!); and by seeking to offer restoration and rehabilitation instead of a balance of harms, and through community involvement in creating justice, it restores families and communities to wholeness.