Discriminatory, Costly, Death Penalty Lives On

Article excerpt

Executions in the United States are reaching record numbers: 56 in 1995, the most since 1959. is year the number could double.

The death penalty continues to be imposed in a discriminatory manner. In 1995, 45 percent of those executed were from minority groups, nearly all African-Americans. Statistics also show discrimination against poor people, the mentally ill, those forced by economics to rely on the least-skilled lawyers.

At the end of 1995, a total of 1,476, or 40.5 percent, of the 2,997 male inmates on death row were black. Since the death penalty was reinstated by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1976, 38.8 percent of its victims have been black. Blacks who kill whites are much more likely to be executed than blacks who kill blacks.

Seventy-three percent of the executions in 1995 occurred in the South. Texas alone accounted for more than one-third of all executions in the United States.

Of some 20,000 persons executed in America since the republic began, fewer than 4,000 have been women. Of 313 executed since 1976 only one has been a woman.

In 1995, five death-row inmates were released after being acquitted at new trials, bringing to 59 the death row inmates released since 1973 because of their innocence,

The cost to taxpayers of the 56 executions in 1995 is estimated in a Duke University study to be $121 million. That sum would have hired 3,000 police officers at $40,000 each.

Studies estimate that in North Carolina each execution costs $2.16 million, in Florida $3.2 million and in Texas $2.3 million' California alone spends $90 million per year to litigate the cases of those on death row. These costs are in almost every case far greater than maintaining a prisoner for life.

In 1995 a national poll by Peter Hart Research Associates revealed that two-thirds of the nation's top law enforcement officials are unconvinced that the death penalty is an effective law enforcement tool. A poll of the nation's top city officials placed the death penalty at the bottom of a list of measures most likely to reduce crime. Reducing drug abuse, lengthening prison sentences and reducing the number of guns were named as worthwhile in reducing violent crime. Only 1 percent named an expanded use of the death penalty.

Evidence that the death penalty deters is unreliable. The murder rate was falling significantly in New York prior to 1995 when New York became the 38th state with a death penalty. Murders in Massachusetts, Minnesota, Michigan and the other 10, states without capital punishment are not more frequent than elsewhere.

In May, Michigan will commemorate the 150th anniversary of the abolition of the death penalty in that state. …