Difficult for Texas to shine when it has the death penalty

Difficult for Texas to shine when it has the death penalty

There have been several articles in the Houston Chronicle recently about improvements to the criminal justice system (Harris County approves funds to reform jail, criminal justice system, 4/26/2016). Such improvements are sorely needed and most welcome.

However, it will be difficult for Texas to be a “shining star” when it comes to criminal justice reform when it leads the nation in terms of executions.

Texas has carried out 537 executions since it restarted this form of punishment in 1982. Six executions have taken place this year and eight more are currently scheduled.

The citizens of Texas are becoming more and more skeptical of the death penalty and politicians should listen up. The recent survey by the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University indicated that 73 % of the citizens surveyed in the Houston area prefer a punishment other than the death penalty for captial murder. Why would this change be taking place? There are at least four reasons:

  • Our criminal justice system is imperfect – innocent people have been sent to death row (13 exonerees in Texas and over 150 nationwide).
  • We now have “life without parole” as an optional punishment for capital murder. Society can be protected without the state taking human life.
  • The extremely high cost of the death penalty compared to a life sentence. The high cost is due to the legal expenses associated with the death penalty.
  • A greater understanding that it is being “smart on crime” to use more of our scarce resources to prevent violent crime rather than just execute people after crimes have been committed
  • 19 states have now abolished the death penalty, Nebraska being the latest. Another 22 states never or rarely use this punishment although it may be legal to do so
  • Most executions take place in states that make up in “Old South” with Texas leading the nation by a 4 to 1 margin.

It is time for the “Great State of Texas” to do away with this costly, unnecessary and error-prone punishment. Then we can really brag about the improvements to our criminal justice system.

David Atwood