During his visit to the United States last week, Pope Francis urged the state of Georgia to reconsider its decision to execute inmate Kelly Gissendaner. The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles denied the pope’s plea, and executed Gissendaner Wednesday, Sept. 30. In response to the execution, Pope Francis addressed Congress with a call to permanently abolish the death penalty. This plea was addressed to the American people as well, and now we must ask ourselves, “Should capital punishment be continued in the United States?”
Before this week, I never had a particularly strong stance on the death penalty controversy. I knew both sides of the argument, but I always figured capital punishment simply was part of the world we live in. However, after considering the matter more seriously, I am inclined to believe Pope Francis has some valid points.
One of the most common arguments for the death penalty is made as a demand for true justice. Capital punishment generally is reserved for those who have been convicted of premeditated murder, and since those individuals consciously denied their victims the right to live, it is only fitting they should be denied that same right.
We have a saying for this — “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”
When someone burglarizes a house, the law does not demand their house be burglarized, and when someone is charged with sexual harassment, the law does not require that person be subjected to sexual harassment as their punishment. So why do we enforce this punishment under certain circumstances, but not others?
The “eye for an eye” treatment doesn’t always hold true either. For example, Gissendaner was executed for conspiring to murder her husband, but it was her boyfriend who actually committed the act. He received a life sentence. In this case, the system seems subjective at best, or even hypocritical. Capital punishment also is seen as an appropriate alternative for criminals who have no hope of rehabilitation. However, there is no way to decide who can and cannot be rehabilitated.
“… a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation,” Pope Francis said during his address to Congress.
Convicts can become productive members of society if given the chance. While they might not deserve much after whatever crime they’ve committed, they deserve at least that much.
Another common argument for the death penalty has always been about the cost. When a convict is sentenced to life in prison, taxpayers are forced to pay for the crimes of that individual. This essentially gives the convict a free ride — all their meals are provided, as are their housing, utilities and recreation. Those supporting the death penalty would then argue this is not suitable punishment, but those people forget prison is not exactly a walk in the park. Life in prison might look like a good deal from a cost-efficiency perspective, but the freedom of inmates, by definition, is restricted severely. They might have free food, but that food is not good food. They might have free housing, but that housing consists of a small cell with a complete lack of privacy. Not to mention, when we say it is more cost-effective to execute an inmate, we literally are reducing that person’s life to a dollar amount. That, to me, is one of the coldest perspectives a person can have regarding human life.
Now, none of this is said with the purpose of turning those who were condemned to death into martyrs or saying they were convicted unjustly. While I do believe they deserved the right to live, they were condemned because of the heinous and unforgivable crimes they committed. But killing the person who committed those crimes does not right what they have done.
Human life should be sacred, and one way to treat it as such is to abolish the death penalty as Pope Francis has urged us to do.