Ex-superintendent of the Oregon State Penitentiary regrets having administered the death penalty

Thursday’s New York Times has an op-ed piece by Semon Frank Thompson, “What I learned from executing two men,” in which he describes how his former advocacy of capital punishment disappeared when he had to administer it. Thompson was the superintendent of the Oregon State Penitentiary from 1994-1998, a period when the only two executions in Oregon over the last 54 years were carried out.

Thompson had no objection to executing prisoners—until he had to do it twice, via lethal injection. The psychological toll on everyone involved was huge, and Thompson realized that it served no purpose for society, either.

There are, as I see it, four reasons people give for any kind of judicial punishment:

  • Deterrence: others who see that they could be punished or executed for heinous crimes will be less likely to commit them
  • Safety of society: incarcerating or killing a criminal eliminates the chance that he’ll commit further crimes
  • Rehabilitation: treating the offender so that he can be returned to society rehabilitated, unlikely to transgress further
  • Retribution: punishing an offender simply because he did wrong, often because (under the assumption of libertarian free will), he made the “wrong choice” and has to be punished for it.

Thompson cites a National Academies study showing, as have other studies, that capital punishment doesn’t deter others from committing capital crimes, or at least the evidence is neither consistent nor compelling. And if capital punishment is to be a deterrent, why don’t we publicly execute people? After all, deterrence is better assured if you carry out the sentence in public, so that potential offenders can see their fate. In general, the only people allowed to witness an execution are reporters and the families of the perpetrator and victim(s).

The “safety of society” claim can be overcome simply by using sentences of “life without the possibility of parole.” That guarantees that the offender never gets out. I tend to dislike these sentences, preferring the Norwegian system in which, after 21 years of pretty humane incarceration, prisoners are assessed every five years to see if they’ve been sufficiently rehabilitated to be returned to society. Some are. Yet the recidivism rate in Norway is just 20%, compared to 77% in the US (that includes all crimes, not just homicides). I don’t find it impossible to conceive of a convicted murderer being rehabilitated if given treatment.

There is, of course, no possibility of rehabilitation if you execute someone. Moreover, more executed prisoners than you think have been found to be innocent after they were killed. It’s impossible to rectify this situation, and to restore justice, if the prisoner is dead.

Further, it costs more, at least in the US, to execute someone than to lock him up for life (see the data here and here).  These costs include not just the added costs of trial itself, which includes a death penalty hearing, but of allowing constant appeals (a necessity in capital cases) as well as the added cost of housing someone on Death Row versus in the general prison populace. I don’t consider “costs” to be that relevant for this argument, as we’re talking about lives here, but it’s hard to make the argument that it’s enormously cheaper to execute someone than imprison them for life. Of course, we could always go to China’s system where prisoners are simply taken out and shot, but I doubt we’d want to do that.

As for retribution, I see it as a corrosive sentiment that has no place in our judicial system, especially because, as a determinist, I believe that nobody has a “choice” whether to kill or not: the act is determined by the combination of one’s genes and one’s environment, and the killer could not have done otherwise. Of course some punishment and/or rehabilitation is demanded for the other three reasons, but not to satisfy peoples’ thirst for vengeance.

Besides, this, there is the effect, emphazied by Thompson, on the well being of those who actually carry out the execution:

Planning an execution is a surreal business. During a prisoner’s final days, staff members keep the condemned person under 24-hour surveillance to, among other things, ensure that he doesn’t harm or kill himself, thus depriving the people of Oregon of the right to do the same. I can understand the administrative logic for this reality, but it doesn’t make this experience any less strange.

During the execution itself, correctional officers are responsible for everything, from strapping the prisoner’s ankles and wrists to a gurney to administering the lethal chemicals. One of the condemned men asked to have his wrist straps adjusted because they were hurting him. After the adjustment was made, he looked me in the eye and said: “Yes. Thanks, boss.”

After each execution, I had staff members who decided they did not want to be asked to serve in that capacity again. Others quietly sought employment elsewhere. A few told me they were having trouble sleeping, and I worried they would develop post-traumatic stress disorder if they had to go through it another time.

Together, we had spent many hours planning and carrying out the deaths of two people. The state-ordered killing of a person is premeditated and calculated, and inevitably some of those involved incur collateral damage. I have seen it. It’s hard to avoid giving up some of your empathy and humanity to aid in the killing of another human being. The effects can lead to all the places you’d expect: drug use, alcohol abuse, depression and suicide.

Given all this, I see no justification for an enlightened society to kill prisoners. But perhaps readers feel otherwise.




  1. Randall Schenck
    Posted September 17, 2016 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    Never have been in favor of the death penalty. As with nearly everything in the bible, eye for an eye is just some old vindictive bastard with an opinion from the stone age.

    If, however, you are one who experienced violent death in your family, I can understand why some would be tempted.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted September 17, 2016 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

      Sure, a crime victim’s desire for retribution is understandable — and, ultimately, simply human. But a sane and mature society ought not to indulge that desire.

      If some sorry sonofabitch raped a woman I love, the only thing that might fully assuage my outrage would be to present her with his genitalia in a pickle jar of formaldehyde to keep on her desk. But I wouldn’t want to live in a land that gave me that option.

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted September 17, 2016 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

        Yes, that’s a little too visual for me. I know that rape in California which also includes murder is automatic life in prison without parole. It should be close to the same even without murder. I will be satisfied that the guy will likely be getting some of the same in lock up.

        • Michael Waterhouse
          Posted September 17, 2016 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

          There is a women in Canada called Mandi Gray who might be happy with that too.
          Any reasonable person though would be appalled,given the actual circumstances.

          And, even without the absurdity of that case, sentencing someone to be raped as punishment is almost as bad as the advocating for the death penalty.

        • Wunold
          Posted September 18, 2016 at 2:19 am | Permalink

          So you think (please correct me if I’m wrong) he deserves that because the perpetrator had free will instead of being a product of his genes, upbringing, and other life experiences, so he deserves punishment, not treatment?

          Another thought: What if it’s revealed later that he was the wrong guy and you find out you were relieved over the possible rape of an innocent man?

        • Linn
          Posted September 18, 2016 at 6:20 am | Permalink

          Would you find that a satisfying end for the child raping catholic priests? I don’t know if even they deserve that however.

          I don’t get how americans run their prisons.
          From what I’ve heard the ones most likely to be raped are kids that are in for petty crimes or narcotics. Murderers and rapists are most likely the ones to be raping others, not being raped themselves. How is that in any way fair?

          I can of course understand the primitive desire to wish harm upon those that do harm to others.
          I remember a case in my country a few years ago with a woman that had brutally abused her kids for years. It was pretty much the worst child abuse case I’ve heard of (worse than many of the catholic church cases). It was ongoing sexual and physical abuse of the worst kind. She had them locked up in her home. I don’t remember how many years she and her boyfriend got in prison, but I’m sure there were plenty of people that wished she could be locked up among the men, not the women.

          Even with cases like that horrid woman, I’m still happy that we don’t let prisoners rape each other or treat them worse than cattle like they do in many countries.
          I have a friend that works in prison with some of the worst murderers and child rapists in the country. He says they’re mostly polite, calm and respectful towards him (the women are more difficult than the men however). Because they’re treated like humans, they act like humans towards the people working there, and towards other prisoners.
          Treating prisoners well makes the days far better for everyone involved, not just the prisoners.

  2. Heather Hastie
    Posted September 17, 2016 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    I oppose the death penalty in all circumstances. The consequences for those required to carry it out should be more important than getting vengeance. There are some criminals whose crimes are so heinous I can imagine their victims will feel better if that criminal is dead, but I personally wouldn’t want even more victims to be created just so I feel better. I’d rather we focused on creating a society that didn’t create those kind of criminals.

    I’ve always thought, but I don’t know if there’s any data, that the death penalty probably increases the murder rate. The reason is that if you know you’re going to die if you’re caught, you’ll do anything you can to avoid being caught, including killing anyone who might give evidence against you or who is trying to catch you. Also, I suspect it’s easier to kill once you’ve done it the first time, and you can’t be executed more than once.

  3. jaxkayaker
    Posted September 17, 2016 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    Cost of capital punishment isn’t relevant to the ethical argument (and other arguments) against it, but many death penalty proponents argue for it based on costs. Thus, knowledge of relative costs is relevant for refuting one argument for it.

  4. rickflick
    Posted September 17, 2016 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    “Ninety-five percent of all known executions were carried out in only six countries: China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United States, Pakistan and Iraq.”

    Interesting community of nations there. They must have something in common beyond executions. It seems these cultures all have a puritanical streak.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted September 17, 2016 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

      When a nation finds itself in such company — when it finds itself an outlier among the community of modern, democratic nations — it’s time to reexamine the practice that put us in this odd grouping. Doesn’t mean we must go willy-nilly with the modernist flow, but we should be willing re-think the principles that got us there.

    • nicky
      Posted September 17, 2016 at 10:21 pm | Permalink

      I’m surprised North Korea does not figure in that list. Is it because of lacking data or do they not execute much?

      • rickflick
        Posted September 17, 2016 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

        I think the lack of solid data may be the reason, or that the numbers are low because of the high level of control of the people by the government. Wikipedia shows, however, that executions are relatively common and often for minor offenses, e.g. watching a S. Korean movie. They are often conducted publicly to intimidate others.

  5. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted September 17, 2016 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    The continued existence of the death penalty – and for that matter, other judicial punishments, does not have much deterrent effect since many criminals simply do not believe they’re going to get caught.
    Decreasing rates of recidivism is a direct threat to the employment of police staff and others in the justice system. Obviously no part of the justice industry is interested in decreasing rates of recidivism.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted September 17, 2016 at 11:01 am | Permalink

      Which is another reason prisons shouldn’t be privatised.

      • jaxkayaker
        Posted September 17, 2016 at 11:31 am | Permalink

        Exactly. That’s why it’s good news that the federal government is discontinuing use of private prisons. Of course, they’ll still get plenty of business from state prisons.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted September 17, 2016 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

        But if you don’t privatise them, how do you expect anyone to make a profit by killing people? What sort of pinko-commie-subversive (e-)utopia do you think you live in?

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted September 17, 2016 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

          Unfortunately, one that is currently experimenting with putting some prisons in private hands. 😦

          Thankfully it has gone so badly in one case that if the government carries on with the experiment that it will damage them at the next election. There’s unfortunately not a lot of sympathy for prisoners, but there are limits and the public doesn’t want to see them actually abused or in serious danger.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted September 17, 2016 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

      It goes without saying that criminals who got caught (a) weren’t deterred and (b) weren’t expecting to get caught. But that doesn’t tell us how many people were deterred from becoming criminals by the knowledge that they very likely would be caught. You can’t assess the effectiveness of a treatment by counting only the failures.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted September 17, 2016 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

        No, but it seems to me that those promoting the death penalty’s deterrent effect have the burden of showing its efficacy in that regard.

        I think the statistics bear out that the greatest deterrent to crime is efficient law enforcement that leads to a high likelihood that offenders will be caught and receive some punishment. Making punishments evermore onerousness has a de minimis impact on deterrence. This is why the push for draconian sentencing during the 1980s and 1990s — the increase in minimum-mandatory sentences from 5 to 10 to 20 and even to 40 years’ imprisonment — was so wrongheaded. The death penalty is similarly otiose as a deterrent.

        Executions might have an increased deterrent effect if they were conducted swiftly and publicly for all crimes in a particular category (although even that is speculation). But I see no indication that the nation has the stomach for the cost in undeserving (and even innocent) executions that would entail. Indeed, my sense of it is that an increasing proportion of the public (and, even more assuredly, the judiciary — including former death-penalty proponents) would just as soon be quit with the whole sordid mess.

        • Gregory Kusnick
          Posted September 17, 2016 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

          I agree that the death penalty doesn’t add much in the way of deterrence, and I too would like to see it abolished once and for all. Sorry if I wasn’t clear on that point.

          But Aidan seemed to be arguing (and perhaps I misunderstood him) that no form of punishment has any meaningful deterrent effect. I think he’s wrong about that, and it seems you agree with me on that point.

  6. Diana MacPherson
    Posted September 17, 2016 at 11:26 am | Permalink


  7. Ken Kukec
    Posted September 17, 2016 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    The death penalty not only fails as a deterrent; it may actually encourage others to kill, by showing those who see themselves as wronged that death serves as condign retribution against the perceived transgressor. After all, as Justice Louis Brandeis observed in his landmark dissent from Olmstead v. United States:

    Our Government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. Crime is contagious. If the Government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy.

    • E.A. Blair
      Posted September 17, 2016 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

      If I really wanted to kill someone (as opposed to the Darrow* treatment) with a reasonable expectation that I would eventually be caught and convicted, I would far rather it were in a state with the death penalty, because the confinement and regimentation of prison for the rest of my life would seriously unhinge me. I guess that in a case like this, the death penalty would serve as an incentive rather than a deterrent.

      *A famous quote from Clarence Darrow is “I have never killed anyone, but I have read some obituaries with great satisfaction.” I have a reading list.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted September 17, 2016 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

        Unless you had a death-wish, or were bonkers, I think the death penalty would be irrelevant, since almost nobody plans on getting caught.


        • E.A. Blair
          Posted September 17, 2016 at 10:30 pm | Permalink

          With the kind of luck I have, I’d be caught before the day is out. I often joke that the only reason my sister is safe is because the state she lives in doesn’t have the death penalty. She is at the top of my Clarence Darrow Memorial Reading List.

      • nicky
        Posted September 17, 2016 at 10:26 pm | Permalink

        E.A, that is the most valid (the only valid?) argument in favour of the death penalty: life without parole is possibly more inhumane than death.

        • E.A. Blair
          Posted September 17, 2016 at 10:34 pm | Permalink

          I was once at risk of being imprisoned*, and my attorney told me that I wouldn’t last more than a few months. He said that he thought that if prison violence didn’t do me in, depression would.

          *It’s a long story, but if you’re really interested, you can read about it at this link.

          • Helen Hollis
            Posted September 18, 2016 at 2:05 am | Permalink

            You put a lot out there. I was wondering why the Chicago police seemed to sound like the bad guys in this. Was there more to this story? Was it possible you had drugs on your person when the police needed to be involved?

            • E.A. Blair
              Posted September 18, 2016 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

              No. Can I now add victim-blaming to the story?

              • Helen Hollis
                Posted September 19, 2016 at 10:34 pm | Permalink

                Close family member a retired CPD detective. We see a lot of negative about the CPD everyday now. My apologies that you felt you were being blamed for anything. It’s too bad that you had no problem making the CPD sound like the boogeyman. That’s not very objective, and you offered no evidence that you should not have been charged.

              • Wunold
                Posted September 20, 2016 at 12:37 am | Permalink

                You apologize, and then you go on with the blame.

                The stories of your relative and your own ignorance say nothing about the objectivity of E.A. Blair’s statements. Without further knowledge about the case you should stay your judgement. Innocent until proven guilty.

          • Ken Kukec
            Posted September 18, 2016 at 10:51 am | Permalink

            That is a harrowing tale. Glad to see you made it through.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted September 18, 2016 at 10:58 am | Permalink

            Wow! I read your story and how awful that you went through all that. I am a strong advocate of universal health care as well and I know that without it I would be, if not dead, in very poor health.

          • rickflick
            Posted September 18, 2016 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

            Glad to see you survived through all that. Best wishes for a healthy, happy future. Universal health care is slowly working it’s way into the mainstream consciousness in the US. Perhaps in the next decade or two we can join the rest of the civilized western world which is for the most part already there.

  8. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted September 17, 2016 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    The “safety of society” claim can be overcome simply by using sentences of “life without the possibility of parole.”

    This is too simplistic in my opinion. Firstly there is a real risk to other inmates and prison officers. Secondly what is the point of rehabilitation if you never release the convicted felon?

    I’ll admit to being out of step with many over capital punishment. I think it should be very rarely used (and is too prevalent in many countries) but that under certain rare circumstances some people deserve to die. What those rare circumstances are is another debate.

    • Posted September 17, 2016 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

      Recent history shows that, once death penalty in a country is abolished, citizens are almost immediately told by the elite that it is inhumane to keep inmates imprisoned for life. Then, the maximum effective term is made into something like 20 years, after which (and usually after a much shorter time) all murderers are released back into society.

      • Lawrence Delaney
        Posted September 17, 2016 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

        Could you give us some examples of this?

        • Posted September 18, 2016 at 1:19 am | Permalink

          Europe, including my country (Bulgaria). Throughout the debate about abolition of death penalty, the public was lied to that even without it, we would be safe from the high-profile murderers that were currently sentenced to death because they would be locked for life. Once the abolition was ingrained in all laws, our ruling class informed us that “life” actually means “15-18 years”.

          • Mitrane
            Posted September 18, 2016 at 5:01 am | Permalink

            The so-called “elite”, is the political class, that even in Bulgaria, as far as I know, is chosen through elections by universal suffrage. In Western Europe (I do not know the Bulgarian case) the crime rate (and the rate of homicides in particular) is much lower than in the US (Italy has 1/3 murders per capita than the United States, despite the strong presence of organized crime). The death penalty does not exist. There is life imprisonment, but often those convicted are released by a judge after twenty or thirty years (at least in Italy, my country, which I know best). In Italy there is a debate on the abolition of life imprisonment, for in our constitution the punishment must lead to the rehabilitation of the offender. Italy (actually the Grand Duchy of Tuscany) was the first country in the world to abolish the death penalty, thanks to the influence of a great abolitionist, Cesare Beccaria, in 1786, before the US Constitution!). The death penalty was reintroduced by the Fascist regime and finally abolished after the Second World War and since then the democratic Italy has fought and won even the communist and neo-fascist terrorism without any need of the death penalty. I am very proud of this.

            • Posted September 20, 2016 at 8:25 am | Permalink

              “The so-called „elite“, is the political class, that even in Bulgaria, as far as I know, is chosen through elections by universal suffrage.”

              This is a problem of the representative democracy: we elect politicians based on what they tell us, and after that they tell and do other things.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted September 17, 2016 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

        Watch your footing on that slippery slope!

        (If you look a little higher up the hillside, you’ll undoubtedly see where those same societies started their downhill slide by prohibiting summary executions of the obviously guilty and allotting them due process rights. From there it was all but inevitable that they’d end up simply setting their murderers free.)

        • Posted September 18, 2016 at 1:24 am | Permalink

          Some discussions here (in the free-will posts) make me think of this.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted September 17, 2016 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

      But that “other debate” is the problem: deciding who’s heinous enough to deserve execution invariably comes down to questions of subjective revulsion that (in my opinion) have no place in what should be a dispassionate judicial process.

      Furthermore, by allowing for rare executions, you give psychopaths a goal to shoot for: the chance to go down in history as one of the truly evil elite. Whether they deserve to die is irrelevant; they certainly don’t deserve to become famous for it. Better to just lock them up for life along with the run-of-the-mill gangsters and hitmen.

  9. AJ
    Posted September 17, 2016 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    @Randall “If, however, you are one who experienced violent death in your family, I can understand why some would be tempted.”

    I’ve experienced death in my family. My very close cousin (and childhood friend) was murdered. And one of my close friends from high school was murdered.

    I’m firmly, 100% against the death penalty. I could go into details why, but Jerry’s article feels like it was taken right out of my brain. I’d just be repeating him.

  10. John Conoboy
    Posted September 17, 2016 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    If you read recent findings about how bad forensic “science” is and how bad police interview techniques are it is obvious that many innocent people are going to jail for crimes they did not commit. In some cases, people are able to help some of them to be vindicated and realeased, but that is not always possible. Most common is when DNA evidence is found that clears people, but DNA is not always present at crime scenes other than on television shows. People confess to comitting crimes that they did not do, usually as a result of the actions of police. People are convicted of crimes even when they have solid alibis, especially if they are black.

    So even if you buy into the deterrent argument, which is flawed. Even if you don’t care that execution is generally thought by civilized societies (ours is dubious) to be cruel and unusual punishment. Are you willing to allow a significant number of innocent people to be executed?

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted September 17, 2016 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

      That is, to my mind, the most compelling argument.

      I can think of a number of cases in my country (NZ) where the police didn’t have anything conclusive and were under pressure to ‘solve’ it so they picked the most likely suspect and, in the notorious phrase, ‘let the jury decide’. We don’t have the death penalty, fortunately.

      Of course it’s entirely possible that those juries, had the death penalty been an option, might have decided the evidence was not strong enough and gone for ‘Not guilty’. But I don’t think raising the stakes is a good way to achieve justice.


    • HaggisForBrains
      Posted September 18, 2016 at 4:19 am | Permalink

      Are you willing to allow a significant number of innocent people to be executed?

      The only significant number is “one”. I am not willing to allow one innocent person to be executed.

      Just imagine how it would feel if it were you.

      • Posted September 19, 2016 at 11:39 am | Permalink

        Especially if, like many prisoners who get to that point, you suffer from mental illness or intellectual handicap.

  11. Alexander
    Posted September 17, 2016 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    One of the reasons I always have respected the French president Francois Mitterrand is that he abolished the death penalty. Even before he was elected he announced he would scrap the guillotine. As soon he was elected, he called for a vote in parliament, and the death penalty was rejected by a large majority, something like 80 percent, if I recall correctly.

  12. Posted September 17, 2016 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    America’s attachment to the death penalty is, frankly, baffling.

  13. Mark R.
    Posted September 17, 2016 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    “I tend to dislike these sentences, preferring the Norwegian system…”

    Yes, this is revealed with great success (imo) in Michael Moore’s latest Where to Invade Next.

  14. mordacious1
    Posted September 17, 2016 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    If someone raped and murdered my daughter, I would want to track him down and painfully execute him. But, since I live in a civilized nation of laws, I and the other citizens, have made an agreement with our government. The government will do its best to capture, try and convict the guilty party. With such a heinous crime, I expect the government to do one of two things. Do what I would have done, but in a humane way. Or at least, lock him him away, if not for punishment, then to keep me from obliterating his sorry ass. I see this as a contract.

    Up to recently, I have been against the death penalty. I bought the argument at a young age, that life in prison is worse than killing the person. Currently though, that argument is no longer valid. For example, in CA Governor Brown is releasing lifers at a record pace. While Gray Davis released 10% of lifers that were recommended for parole, Brown in releasing 82% and planning on increasing that number.


    So now, after many decades, I have to rethink my position on the death penalty, since the life in prison argument doesn’t hold water anymore. If you execute someone, you know some liberal governor won’t let him out at a later date.

    The contract that the people had with their government has been breached by that government. So don’t be surprised if some dad goes all vigilante on the perpetrator.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted September 17, 2016 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

      I don’t see how paroling lifers who are eligible for it has any bearing on the question of whether the death penalty should be replaced with sentences of life without possibility of parole.

      Or are you saying that Brown is commuting “life without” sentences to “life with” so that he can issue a parole? If so, then I’d agree that’s a breach of the social contract.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted September 17, 2016 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

        Surely, if the parole board – whose job it is to make the judgement – recommends parole, then it would be entirely in order for the governor to approve 100% of recommendations. So complaining about 82% is bogus.

        Just reading that link, part of the reason for Brown approving so many paroles is the backlog of parolees who *should* have been approved earlier and were rejected by previous governors.


      • mordacious1
        Posted September 17, 2016 at 8:56 pm | Permalink

        That’s exactly what he’s doing. People that get life without parole are getting 25 years and out.


        • Gregory Kusnick
          Posted September 17, 2016 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

          No, that article specifically talks about inmates sentenced to life with parole. That means there was always a possibility that these prisoners could be released, and anybody who thought otherwise was fooling themselves.

          The article says nothing about releasing prisoners whose sentences precluded the possibility of parole.

    • rickflick
      Posted September 17, 2016 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

      The classic retort to the argument that the system leaks at the corners is – better some guilty go free than that some innocent are put to death.

      And another: if a father murders his daughter’s rapist, the rapist’s father might very well retaliate in kind. This could end up like the Hatfields and McCoys.

      • mordacious1
        Posted September 17, 2016 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

        The simple answer is to not let the violent killers of society get out. House them, feed them, give them cable, let them walk the yard an hour a day. Other wise, forget about them. I’m even willing to make some exceptions…rare exceptions.

        • Linn
          Posted September 18, 2016 at 6:47 am | Permalink

          The thing is, in a less violent and revenge-focuses society, the parents may not feel the same need to exact revenge.
          From what I remember after Utøya here in Norway, most parents were happy with the punishment Brevik got. Thy may have been steaming on the inside, but they realised that the best society is one built on justice, not revenge.

          Of course, we have our exceptions here as well. I remember watching the news some years ago when my brother was over for dinner. There was a paedophile male teacher that had been convicted for raping dozens of young boys.
          One of the fathers of the boys was waiting outside the court with a knife.
          I remember my brother saying that the man should have brought a gun instead. Since my brother is now the father of a little boy himself, I think his opinion is the same.
          I don’t know what I would feel if someone hurt my nephew, but I do believe that, unlike my brother, I would want to let the justice system sort him out.

          Everyone believes they have good cause to kill someone else. Everyone believes they’re acting in the name of good.

          What always surprises me in the debates about death penalty, is that the people supporting it, are often the same people complaining about the state telling them what to do. They don’t want to give the state power over corporations or the market, but they want to give the state the power to kill citizens!
          It completely baffles me every time.

  15. Posted September 17, 2016 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

    What if we make death penalty optional? That is, if a prisoner is given life without parole, or a sentence they can’t possibly survive (in the US, the sentences for separate crimes are served consecutively, so it’s possible to receive a 200-year long sentence).

    • Posted September 17, 2016 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

      …they could pick whether they want to sit in prison for the rest of their life, or take the death penalty.

      • HaggisForBrains
        Posted September 18, 2016 at 4:22 am | Permalink

        Someone would then complain that they’re being allowed to take “the easy way out”.

        • Posted September 18, 2016 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

          Undoubtedly. But this option achieves the same end result as death penalty, but without the costly and prolonged appeals or anyone having to take the responsibility of killing another human being.

          • Gregory Kusnick
            Posted September 18, 2016 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

            If you’re offering them the option of execution, you still need an executioner, who must live with the consequences of that action.

            Or are you saying lifers should have the option of choosing suicide by their own hand, thereby relieving the state of responsibility for their deaths?

            Even then I think it’s not so simple in the case of, say, a wrongly convicted innocent person driven by despair to choose the suicide option. Surely the state bears some responsibility for that.

  16. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted September 17, 2016 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

    I’m generally against the death penalty, for a number of reasons. Most strongly, the possibility of executing innocent people (you can’t *ever* correct your mistake later).

    It also means, coupled with the unpredictability of juries, that prosecutors can obtain convictions by threats – a.k.a. plea bargaining – ‘plead guilty and we won’t ask for the death penalty’ – in cases where the accused absolutely should have pleaded innocent. Very convenient for the prosecution in cases where the evidence is, shall we say, inconclusive.

    And that brings in the total unreliability of ‘eyewitness’ evidence.

    That said, if someone stood Anders Behring Breivik up against a wall and used him for target practice, I wouldn’t feel obliged to protest.

    So *if* the death penalty existed, it should only be allowed in cases where the identity of the accused was established, not only beyond all reasonable doubt, but beyond all possibility of doubt; and where the premeditated intention to kill (not just to harm) was similarly established. But I think it might as well be abolished.


    • nicky
      Posted September 17, 2016 at 11:08 pm | Permalink

      Infimp, I don’t know. Breivik suffered a lot of abuse and was seriously deluded. I think he was a victim of ‘multiculturalism’ gone awry. I see him more as an astray pawn than an irredeemable psycho (but then, that is just my view).
      I think I would feel obliged to protest. In your scenario someone else is doing the dirty work (very relevant to the subject of this post).
      Would you pull the trigger yourself?

  17. nicky
    Posted September 17, 2016 at 10:51 pm | Permalink

    I’m in 2 minds about the death penalty.
    Against: see Jerries post above, he covers it quite well. Another argument against is that when emotions run high (e.g. the rape and murder of a child), the call for execution is strongest. But when emotions run high we are also most likely to make mistakes. Executing innocents in other words.
    In favour:
    – life w/o parole is as inhumane as death.
    – recurrence after death is 0%, and some crimes are so bad you want that 0%.
    – prisons are ruled by gangs (the only real rape culture, IMMO). Do we really want psycho/sociopaths to have an important role to play there?
    Note, I would still vote against the death penalty, but not enthusiastically. It is a lose-lose choice, one can’t win here.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted September 17, 2016 at 11:21 pm | Permalink

      “life w/o parole is as inhumane as death”

      I suspect there are some Death Row inmates who would disagree with you. In any case, it should not be up to the state to decide that an inmate’s life isn’t worth living.

      “prisons are ruled by gangs”

      That’s an argument for reforming the prison system, not for retaining the death penalty.

      • nicky
        Posted September 17, 2016 at 11:47 pm | Permalink

        Greg, points taken.
        I’m sure many death row inmates would disagree, but I’m not sure that is a decisive argument. Allow me to formulate better: life w/o parole is *arguably* as inhumane as death.
        Yes,that is totally true, but I doubt that the prison system is reformable in practice. Under present circumstances, not just in the USA, but virtually the world over, gang rule is a given. And hence remains -for the time being- as an argument in favour of death (practice, not principle).

        • nicky
          Posted September 18, 2016 at 1:24 am | Permalink

          Ironically, the reform of the prison system, if possible, would make life more difficult for the greatest criminals, the ones that would ‘qualify’ for death row: no more drugs (including alcohol and tobacco) , no more sex (rape or otherwise), no more cell phones or Internet, maybe if I were on death row I’d rather kill myself.:(

        • nicky
          Posted September 18, 2016 at 1:26 am | Permalink

          The reason I think prison reform is so difficult is that I think gang formation in an *innate* human tendency.

          • nicky@
            Posted September 18, 2016 at 1:32 am | Permalink

            Sorry, Jerry, I hope I did not infringe the Roolz here. Too many comments, kinda hyjacking, but it still is on topic. If I overdid: my apologies.

          • nicky
            Posted September 18, 2016 at 2:06 am | Permalink

            If I can continue without infringing the
            In SA this gang culture has spread outside the prisons. Ex-convicts are 26, 27 or 28 gang members, the 3 main gangs . And even non-convicts can be say a 28. It is taken quite seriously, like: don’t squabble with him (or even her) he’s a 26! A 26 and 28 can get into a deadly fight (outside prison) just because of allegiance.
            They take a tattoo on the left shoulderblade to discourage defection, even after release. Note too that about half the younger aged population in the ‘lokasie’ (township) in Western Cape are affiliated.
            Curiously, if an inmate does not belong to a gang, he is called a Frenchman. The Frenchmen’s lives are not easy.

  18. Dale Franzwa
    Posted September 18, 2016 at 1:09 am | Permalink

    I wish to take exception to Jerry’s definition of “Retribution” as punishment for having committed a crime. I think that retribution is considered “payback” to the victims of a crime. I’ll use a personal example. Several years ago, a self storage unit I was renting was broken into and a safe with personal papers of mine plus some old “starter checks” I had forgotten to destroy was stolen.

    The thief wrote several checks which he used to draw down my banking account He got slightly under $1000 before the bank froze my account. The bank reimbursed me for the stolen cash but, since this was a crime of identity theft, I had months of work to replace stolen documents and re-establish my identity. Luckily, I had a sharp detective assigned to my case who figured out who the criminal was.

    A year or so later, the guy was caught by police after committing several far more serious crimes against several other victims. I attended the pretrial hearing where I established my identity as one of the victims. Later, the guy plea bargained for a lighter sentence than he would likely have received had his case gone to trial. The judge awarded me “retribution” of an amount equal to what had been stolen. In prison, the guy gets payed for work he does (I don’t know what job he works at) and that money goes to me and the other victims until he has repaid all the retribution amounts awarded. I’ve received about two-thirds of the amount awarded and I expect to get the rest before he finishes serving his sentence several years from now.

    This is why I say “retribution” is payback for crimes committed. In the case of murder, obviously the victim can’t be reimbursed. However, the relatives (and maybe others) often demand the death penalty as “retribution” or payback for the crime. They say the death penalty gives them closure. And, if no penalty, then no closure. This is why we have a death penalty, to provide retribution rather than just a penalty alone for committing murder. I’m neither arguing for or against the death penalty just trying to explain why many people demand it.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted September 18, 2016 at 1:40 am | Permalink

      Jerry has it right: retribution is about making the criminal suffer.

      The compensation you get from your thief is restitution, not retribution.

      • Dale Franzwa
        Posted September 18, 2016 at 10:25 pm | Permalink

        Sorry, but I disagree with you. Retribution can stand for both punishment and compensation (which is a better word than payback). You’re punished for committing the crime. Part of that punishment is compensation to the victims (the old idea of an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth).

    • nicky
      Posted September 18, 2016 at 1:40 am | Permalink

      I think that retribution is an accepted part of punishment in our legal systems (legalists, please correct me if I’m wrong here).
      It is just that some crimes can’t really be retributed. That is part of the whole capital punishment debate.

  19. Mike
    Posted September 18, 2016 at 7:12 am | Permalink

    There are some Murders that are so horrendous that the perpetrator is surely insane, there are others that are spur of the moment and usually within family situations and the perpetrator is unlikely to repeat the offence, and then you have the cynical murder committed in the commission of a crime, and then there is terrorism. I would have no compunction in killing someone who murdered a member of my Family, but having said all that, I am against the Death Penalty, because of the number of innocent People that have been executed. One of the most horrendous miscarriages of Justice was the case of Derek Bentley ,hanged in the 50s in the UK. you can read it here.

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