"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." - Oscar Wilde

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Time to abolish Kentucky's death penalty

Unjust. Unfair. Costly. Dehumanizing.

These concerns reflect the reality of the administration of the death penalty. As such, they lead to the same inevitable conclusion: It is time to abolish capital punishment in Kentucky.

It has been 4 years since an American Bar Association-sponsored assessment of the use of the death penalty in Kentucky resulted in a report that revealed serious problems related to fairness and accuracy. These included an error rate of more than 60 %, meaning a majority of death sentences were overturned on appeal; caseloads far exceeding the national average for public defenders handling capital cases; inadequate protections against death sentences for defendants with mental disabilities; and no uniform standards on eyewitness identifications.

These and other findings of the review by a team of Kentucky attorneys, former judges and law school professors were so numerous and troubling that the report recommended suspending all executions until the issues were addressed. But that hasn't happened. In fact, there have been no significant changes in the death penalty law since the report was issued.

That means the families of murder victims must continue to live with uncertainty and the hardships inherent in our criminal justice system.

As an accompanying column by Ben Griffith points out, his brother's murder led to long decades of waiting for the system to work through appeals - forcing his family to relive the horror of their loss. "Is it any wonder that a 2012 study conducted on the well-being of homicide survivors found that those who lived in a state where the ultimate penalty was life without parole fared much better than those with the death penalty?" he writes.

The absence of change in Kentucky's death penalty law also means the state continues to incur costs that exceed the resources that would be required if life without parole were the maximum penalty possible.

Another article in this series by state Rep. David Floyd provides more detail.

"It's counterintuitive, but taxpayers spend far more on our system of capital punishment than we would if the death penalty were not an option. Every study undertaken in the United States concludes that our death penalty system is far more costly than a system in which the maximum sentence is life without the possibility of parole."

The additional costs accrue through expenditures by county jails and state prisons and the lengthy appeals process.

"The vast majority of those who remain in prison under a death sentence just die in prison," Rep. Floyd writes. "We're spending huge sums of tax dollars on a system of death, but what we are getting is de facto life without parole."

These realities of families' anguish and wasted public resources provide strong arguments for abolishing the death penalty - an action that 19 states and the District of Columbia have taken through the years. Nebraska is the most recent with its legislature voting for abolition in May 2015.

Opposition to the death penalty also is a point of agreement among people with different, and often contradictory, political points of view on other matters. Marc Hyden of the national group Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty shares information in an accompanying column about the recent inaugural meeting of that organization in northern Kentucky.

"For pro-life conservatives who subscribe to the notion that the government shouldn't wrongly execute Americans and innocent lives should be safeguarded, the death penalty has become an untenable program. ... Kentucky's own track record is tainted by mistakes. ... The death penalty in Kentucky and elsewhere poses an undeniable hazard to innocent life."

Finally, on a personal note, my opposition to the death penalty developed as a result of my role in administering it 5 times. At the time, I was director of the Georgia Department of Corrections, overseeing the executions in the maximum security prison where I had previously served as warden.

I oppose the death penalty for the reasons articulated by my fellow writers and because I believe it is illogical for the state to teach citizens not to kill by killing. I also am acutely aware of the heavy toll capital punishment exacts from the individuals who have to carry out the sanction. As I have written before, corrections officials are expected to commit the most premeditated murder imaginable.

Unjust. Unfair. Costly. Dehumanizing. Kentucky must not wait any longer to join 19 other states and abolish the death penalty.

Source: The Courier-Journal, Allen Ault, November 4, 2015. Mr. Ault recently retired as Dean of the College of Justice & Safety at Eastern Kentucky University. During his career, he served as Director of Corrections for 5 governors in 3 states.

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