The Extrahuman Union

Return of the Death Penalty Debate

Posted on: March 7, 2011

The Connecticut General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee is holding hearings about the death penalty again today. I’ve said a lot about this in the past, and I think a lot of the arguments are so well-worn by this point that the testimony could really be a series of references to testimonies past: “I’d like to take a moment if I may to replay for you a montage I’ve made of the remarks I’ve given on this subject over the past ten years. It’s twenty minutes long. Can we get the lights?”

There’s a central question everyone’s trying to get at with death penalty debates, though I don’t think we ever quite get there. It seems to me like we’re all trying to figure out just who justice is for, and what it’s about. Is it for the victims or their families? The accused? Are we about revenge? Rehabilitation? Bettering society in some way? Keeping society safe? The death penalty debate crystalizes these issues in a way that few other policy discussions do. It holds a mirror up to our society, and forces us to very closely examine one of its foundations.

I personally believe that there’s little to be gained and much to lose when when the state takes a life, but many people believe that death is the ultimate justice for victims and their families. I respect that point of view, because both come from that place in the human soul that demands justice when someone is wronged.

There are a lot of pieces of our justice system which could do with a good, long and very public examination. Our casual acceptance of abuse in prisons, for one. What happens to ex-offenders when they leave the system is another. The death penalty is not a bad place to start, though, because the answers we find here could become a lens through which to see these other, larger and more entrenched problems.

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2 Responses to "Return of the Death Penalty Debate"

In an important way, the debate is also about a question few actually (want to?) articulate: how much faith do we have in the system to properly and correctly determine guilt?

Having watched situations* unfold in my current state and my hometown, I am unable to have a strong faith.

* ref: North Carolina SBI Crime Lab controversy and the PA Luzerne County juvenile judges scandal.

That is a very, very important question. A glance at the Innocence Project‘s site should be enough to give anyone pause…

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