Kevin Lair
Staff Columnist

Capital punishment may sound scary, but the sound of serial killers roaming our streets and prisons is far scarier. If a jury of one’s peers decides, the death penalty is a severe, yet reasonably earned punishment for individuals convicted of heinous crimes such as first-degree murder.

The Criminal Justice Legal Foundation reviewed 24 studies on the deterrence effect—the theory that the death penalty deters crime. 17 of the studies showed a clear correlation that crime decreased when felons convicted of heinous crimes were sentenced to death, whereas five could not find a clear correlation and two were inconclusive.

In 2007, Dr. Michael Summers of Pepperdine University published his university’s findings on the deterrence theory in a Wall Street Journal article entitled “Capital Punishment Works.” Summers wrote, “[O]ur recent research shows that each execution carried out is correlated with about 74 fewer murders the following year.” He adds, “[F]or whatever reason, there is a simple but dramatic relationship between the number of executions carried out and a corresponding reduction in the number of murders.”

Summers followed up with a regression analysis and found that “the odds against the pattern being simply a random happening are about 18,000 to one.” Clearly, sentencing vicious criminals to death thwarts other criminals and saves lives.

There is the possibility that an innocent person may be sentenced to death, but that is a fault of the courts. Luckily, an increasing number of cases are solved using DNA and other forms of scientifically proven evidence rather than circumstantial situations and hearsay. Any innocent life sentenced to death is a tragedy, but to allow a serial killer, for example, to possibly escape prison and kill dozens of prison guards or civilians is a far worse tragedy.

A liberal would argue that the death penalty unfairly targets minorities and low-income earners, but the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics says otherwise. As 2010 ended, 55 percent of people under sentence of death were white while 42 percent were black. Whites and blacks committed roughly the same number of murders and nonnegligent manslaughter, the primary convictions that warrant the death sentence, so there exists no death penalty bias.

Most crimes are committed by people of lower income levels, so representatively, you would expect more death sentences for those of lower incomes. In reference to affording adequate representation, the Legal Director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation Kent Scheidegger, argued, “Scott Peterson, with the lawyer to the stars, sits on death row, while the public defender got a life sentence for the penniless Unabomber. The mitigating circumstance of Theodore Kaczynski’s mental illness made the difference, not the lawyers.”

It is also more costly to sentence someone to life without parole, or LWOP, than issue the death penalty. Justice For All, a criminal justice reform organization, found that “LWOP cases will cost $1.2 million – $3.6 million more than equivalent death penalty cases.”

Americans overwhelming support the death penalty as well. This past December, Gallup opinion polling found that 63 percent of Americans support it. Meanwhile, states have decided for themselves the legality of capital punishment. Though I am disappointed in Maryland’s House of Delegates who voted to ban the death penalty, I would expect nothing less from such a liberal state.

Capital punishment is not handed down to the kid that steals a candy bar from the local store or jaywalks to class. Capital punishment is for the cruelest among us, the violent, merciless monsters that plague our society and cause us to question our safety. It increases security, deters criminals, and sends a message that America will not stand for savages who strike fear and sorrow into our hearts.

To save countless innocent lives, our judicial system must take the lives of vicious, merciless killers who otherwise could return to the streets through commuted sentences or escape. Regardless of race, age, or favorite color, if you can commit such a heinous crime, you can face the severe consequences, including the death penalty.

The Elm

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