December 18, 2004

"The leading cause of death on death row is old age."

If the death penalty is really the death penalty, why is California solving its problem of too many prisoners on death row by spending $220 million to build a new death row prison? It seems to me that if you are going to use the death penalty, you should carry it out reasonably quickly. But maybe what California has is not actually a death penalty:
Franklin E. Zimring, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of a book on capital punishment, said a bigger prison at San Quentin would be an appropriate metaphor for a state that values law and order but seems to have little appetite for Texas-style justice. Texas leads the nation in executions, with 336 since 1976. Its death row now houses 444 inmates.

"What we are talking about looks like an inefficiency, but it may function to give us exactly what we want, which is a death penalty without executions," Professor Zimring said. "When people are ambivalent and not very honest about their priorities, it is very difficult to distinguish between ingenuity and inefficiency."

He said that what was most remarkable about capital punishment in California was that even with strong public support for it - a Field Poll in March showed 68 percent favored the death penalty for serious crimes - there was scant outrage over the courts' slow-paced application of it.

The suspicion is that Californians want to be able to express their condemnation, to say "you deserve to die," but they also want to say "we should not kill." It seems incoherent, but perhaps it is quite coherent. Thinking about it, I realize it is about the way I think of the death penalty.

UPDATE: Rick Garnett, at Mirror of Justice, agrees and frames the idea in Catholic terms:
I guess I have concluded that we are foreclosed from giving some criminals what they truly deserve (and don't Catholics often pray that we will not receive what we truly deserve?) by a moral prohibition on unnecessary, intentional killings.

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