Friday, May 9, 2014

Education, not executions: an open letter to Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin

Dear Governor Fallin,
As a Canadian observing the recent events surrounding the botched execution of Clayton Lockett, I am bemused and stunned that one of your citizens, regardless of the heinousness of his crime, would suffer such a barbaric and inhumane death at the hands of the State of Oklahoma. As of this writing, it appears a second autopsy will be performed, which will hopefully go a long way to determine exactly how and why this happened as well as result in amending your state’s execution practices in the near future.
In a more general sense, however, this case points to the ethical difficulties involved in capital punishment. Before we go any further, consider the following facts:
·       As I’m sure you’re aware, FBI crime statistics show that states without the death penalty experience consistently lower murder rates than those with the death penalty by a margin of 46% in some years.

·       There is a sharp racial disparity among those sentenced to state execution, according to the Staff Report by the Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights Committee on the Judiciary (1994). According to the summary of that report, “Analysis of prosecutions under the federal death penalty provisions of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 reveals that 89% of the defendants selected for capital prosecution have been either African-American or Mexican-American.” 

·      Despite conventional wisdom, there is evidence showing that the death penalty does not provide the victims’ families with a sense of justice and closure, and in fact can exact a painful toll on them. 
To me it seems too simplistic to assume a one-to-one relationship between a state’s murder rate and the existence of a death penalty, although I’m sure there must be something I’m not aware of that can explain the correlation. Nevertheless, I think the correlation vigorously dispels the notion that capital punishment is any kind of deterrent for would-be murderers.
It occurred to me that perhaps state spending on public education may play a role in alleviating the social conditions that lead to violent crimes, especially murder. Consider the Census Bureau report on education spending per-student by state, in which eight of the top ten states were those without the death penalty, with the others generally being clustered in the top half. Conversely, states with the death penalty monopolize the bottom ten in education spending, and generally dominate the bottom half of these figures. As you may or may not be aware, Oklahoma students finish third from the bottom on the list.
Taking all of the above into consideration, wouldn’t it make more sense, from a public safety perspective, to invest in public education rather than state execution, particularly given its demonstrated ineffectiveness as a deterrent, what appears to be its inherent racial bias, and the unhealthy effects it has on many victims’ families? Furthermore, at what point is the state knowingly complicit in future murders if a better deterrent isn’t sought?
Best of all, investing taxpayer money in education rather than execution would help the State of Oklahoma avoid the moral ambiguities involved in punishing murder with murder.
This letter will be published on my blog, as will any response, verbatim, that I receive from you. Thank you for your time and attention, and for considering this issue of conscience.

James Deagle
Ottawa, Canada