By Jere Cole
One of the most controversial issues in the conversation about life is the use of the death penalty. Is the death penalty a violation of the sanctity of life? Or is it a necessity to the governance of our modern day society? How do we go about building a framework to think about and to discuss the issue of the death penalty?
Let’s look at some statistics regarding the death penalty in the United States.
• There are currently 33 states that have a death penalty and 17 states that do not.
• There have been 1320 executions in the United States since 1976.
• In 96% of states where there have been reviews of race and the death penalty, there was a pattern of either race-of-victim or race-of-defendant discrimination, or both.
• A report by the National Research Council, titled Deterrence and the Death Penalty, stated that studies claiming that the death penalty has a deterrent effect on murder rates are “fundamentally flawed “and should not be used when making policy decisions (2012).
• A new study in California revealed that the cost of the death penalty in the state has been over $4 billion since 1978. (Alarcon & Mitchell, 2011).
• In Maryland, an average death penalty case resulting in a death sentence costs approximately $3 million.
Taken from http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/documents/FactSheet.pdf
So the death penalty ends lives, has racial undertones attached to it, is expensive, and is not proven to deter violence and murder in the states where it is in force.
These statistics are important to remember when building a framework for discussing the death penalty. But, as Christians and as Catholics, our framework must also look to the basics of the biblical story: the sanctity of human life and the Kingdom of God’s emphasis on justice. In the beginning of the Bible, humans are made in the image of God.
Therefore, all human life is sacred. The Kingdom of God is present to protect the sanctity of human life and provide justice for all human beings.
What does this mean for the people of God? If we are Jesus’ hands and feet, if our purpose is to build the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven, then it is our responsibility to protect the sanctity of human life and to provide justice for all human beings. The question then becomes, is retribution the way to protect human life and to provide justice?
Or does justice, according to the biblical story, have more of an entity of grace attached to it? If we are a community that truly desires to promote human dignity at all stages of life, these are questions that are important to think and to pray about.