Texas’ overuse of capital punishment
(Image Source: http://deathpenaltynews.blogspot.com/2014/08/cartoons-about-capital-punishment-page-2.html)
It’s a Tuesday evening. Your execution day has finally come. You lay strapped down to a gurney. Your family and friends (if you have any left that have stuck with you through your sentence), your lawyer, and a couple reporters are there to watch your execution through a glass wall. You are asked to deliver your final statement and then the execution technicians insert the syringe into a vein in your arm. As you prepare yourself to leave this world, the syringe slips out, squirting chemicals across the room. The execution technicians rush to fix the problem by putting the syringe back into your arm after putting a curtain over the glass wall so that witnesses cannot see what is going on. You are asked to give another “final statement” and then the execution technicians once again insert the syringe into a vein in your arm. You are much more emotional now than you were before because you must prepare to leave this world a second time as the lethal drugs are injected into your body.
Similar situations have been experienced by at least ten death row inmates. Randy Woolls (1986), Billy Wayne White (1992), Genaro Ruiz Camacho (1998), and Claude Jones (2000) are just a few. In each case, the execution was delayed because the execution technicians had difficulty finding a suitable vein in which to insert the syringe. Woolls and White even attempted to help the execution technicians find a suitable vein. If you were going to be executed wouldn’t you hope that the process ran smoothly and that you wouldn’t have to help with your own execution?
Controversy over the death penalty is not new in politics. While some believe that the death penalty is simply ridding society of dangerous criminals, others view executions as inhumane and unfair. Most “Texans believe the punishment must fit the crime and that the death penalty represents the ultimate symbol of justice” (Collier, Galatas and Harrelson-Stephens).
Texas is a state that is “tough on crime” and takes pride in swift and severe punishment. Does the death penalty carry out justice though? We are punishing murderers by killing them. This seems rather hypocritical. Texas is “[set] apart from the rest of the country” due to “Texans’ preference for a tough approach to crime, demands for justice, and ardent support of the death penalty” (Collier, Galatas and Harrelson-Stephens). In contrast, the death penalty has become increasingly unpopular in the U.S. as well as internationally: the death penalty is banned in eighteen states in the U.S. and 140 countries (Collier, Galatas and Harrelson-Stephens).
The cost of death penalty cases is three times higher than the cost of keeping an inmate detained at maximum security for a life sentence (Collier, Galatas, & Harrelson-Stephens, 2014). This means that capital punishment places a substantial burden on Texas taxpayers: “taxpayers pay $2.3 million for the average death penalty case in Texas, compared to $750,000 to imprison someone in a single cell at the highest level of security for forty years” (Collier, Galatas and Harrelson-Stephens).
While the death penalty should be abolished across the nation, “the U.S. Congress lacks the legal power to impose national repeal because the U.S. Constitution allocates legislative power over criminal law to the states” (Garland). Rather than one national decision to abolish the death penalty, each individual state has to decide to abolish the death penalty which is why it is taking the U.S. longer to abolish it than other countries.
Texas might be killing innocent people; not just those guilty of the crimes for which they were convicted. Since technology has advanced and the use of DNA has been discovered it has been realized that some prisoners who were executed in the past were probably innocent. 156 people in the United States, including 13 Texans, have been exonerated from death rows because they were wrongfully convicted (Collier, Galatas, & Harrelson-Stephens, 2014). Some have not been so “lucky” however: Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in 2004 for killing his three children by arson. Since Willingham’s execution, there has been strong evidence collected that supports his innocence.
Botched executions is one other reason why the death penalty is a problem. There have been at least ten cases of botched executions in Texas. In two separate executions, Randy Woolls on August 20, 1986 and Billy Wayne White on April 23, 1992, the inmates actually tried to assist the execution technicians locate a suitable vein in which to insert the syringe because they were having difficulty finding one. In a different execution, on April 23, 1998, Joseph Cannon made two “final statements” because the execution took a second attempt after the syringe slipped out of his vein in the first attempt. If a person is to be executed, one would hope that that person would not feel the need to help with the execution to speed up the process or have to go through it twice.
Attempting to abolish the death penalty in the state of Texas has been and will most likely continue to be rather difficult and time consuming because of the widespread support of capital punishment by Texans, including “Texans sitting on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, and among Texans serving on the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles” (Collier, Galatas and Harrelson-Stephens). This is how capital punishment and the citizens’ view of it can affect political actions. Also, Texas candidates rarely run for office without supporting the death penalty because most Texans believe it is a correct form of punishment. Changing laws is not a quick or easy process, but implementing change at the local level moves at a faster rate than the national level. Despite some problems, eliminating capital punishment in Texas is not impossible and it will cause an overall positive impact on society.
The abolition of the death penalty can be achieved more quickly by starting citizen initiatives, or petition drives, geared toward persuading state legislators to do away with capital punishment.
Sure, we can say, “Get rid of the death penalty!” all day, but how do we actually make it happen? The following steps of action should be taken in order to initiate a plan to persuade legislators to abolish the death penalty in Texas:
Step 1: The first step toward abolishing the death penalty is to do research about the issue. Step 2: The second step toward abolishing the death penalty is to raise awareness of the issue. Step 3: The third step toward abolishing the death penalty is to start a citizen initiative, or a petition drive.
With enough people behind the cause to abolish the death penalty the Texas Legislature will turn its focus toward the issue and hopefully take action by changing the law of capital punishment. The solution to abolish the death penalty will lift the burden on Texas taxpayers and eliminate the risk of executions of innocent people and the risk of botched executions.
Unfortunately, keeping prisoners, who would normally be sentenced to death, imprisoned might cause other problems, such as overpopulated prisons. Prisons in Texas are already dealing with the problem of overcrowding which will only get worse if the death penalty is abolished and no other action is taken. The Texas Legislature has changed its focus on rehabilitation rather than punishment (Collier, Galatas and Harrelson-Stephens). With nonviolent criminals being rehabilitated rather than punished, Texas saves money and its taxpayers do as well. The reduction in incarceration rates will not only save money, but it will also lower the prison population.
The execution of a person can be neither peaceful nor humane under any circumstances.
It is our moral responsibility to take action in solving the issue of the death penalty.
Collier, Ken, Steven Galatas and Julie Harrelson-Stephens. Lone Star Politics: Tradition and Transformation in Texas. New York: CQ College Press, 2014.
“Death Row Inmates by State and Size of Death Row by Year.” n.d. Death Penalty Information Center. <http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/death-row-inmates-state-and-size-death-row-year>.
Garland, David W. 28 May 2014. IIP Digital. Web. 8 May 2016.
Horsey, David. “Botched executions are bad; killing wrongly convicted is far worse.” 15 January 2015. Los Angeles Times. Web. 9 May 2016.
“Number of Executions by State and Region Since 1976.” n.d. Death Penalty Information Center. Web. 9 May 2016.
Possley, Maurice. “Fresh doubts over a Texas execution: New evidence revives concerns that a man was wrongly put to death in 2004.” 3 August 2014. The Washington Post. Web. 9 May 2016.