On Nov. 17, Mississippi executed its first prisoner since 2012. One of around 150 inmates to “volunteer” for execution since the United States resumed the death penalty in the 1970s, David Neal Cox waived his rights to appeals and counsel. Despite his history of mental health issues, this forfeiture of rights was allowed by a Union County judge. This was one of just 10 executions nationwide this year, and it is time we ask ourselves where we should draw the line.
Capital punishment has been around since medieval times, and this is exactly what this form of punishment is: medieval. The United States is only one of fourteen countries in the world that still allows the death penalty, alongside the likes of China, South Korea and Iran. No nation in Europe has used the death penalty since 2016, and European countries have banned the exportation of drugs used for lethal injection. The United States is decades behind the rest of the western world in moving to abolish the barbaric practice of execution.
Not only is the practice in itself an extreme way of dealing with those guilty of capital crimes, but it also provides the inherent risk of putting an innocent person to death. Since 1973, at least 186 wrongly convicted people on death row have been exonerated thanks to the work of social justice groups across the nation. Had it not been for people actively fighting for the lives of inmates on death row, however, those 186 people would have been put to death for crimes they did not commit.
Even putting aside the risk of executing innocent people, the death penalty system costs the United States hundreds of millions of dollars every year for the cost of appeals, incarceration and lethal injection drugs. For a society so concerned with government spending and lowering taxes, wouldn’t it make more sense to abolish a system that is spending all of those taxpayer dollars on a mere handful of executions every year? The cost of a system that imposes a maximum sentence of life in prison rather than the death penalty would save millions of dollars a year, making room for those funds to be allocated to other community programs, school systems and public works projects.
In the case of the recent execution in Mississippi, the families of Cox’s victims did not even wish for the death penalty. They publicly announced their ambivalence to the situation, stating they knew it would not bring them any more closure than they already have. Some of the victim’s family members even said they had moved to a place of forgiveness. If executing a criminal is not even bringing peace to the families of those they have hurt, it serves no purpose other than as an inefficient scare tactic by the American legal system.
There are currently around 2,500 inmates sitting on death row, with reversals and exonerations outpacing the new cases in recent years. Many of these people have spent decades on death row, waiting for an execution day that may take decades more to come. Meanwhile, government resources are being spent on their continued appeals throughout their time on death row.
The process to get a death row inmate to their actual execution day is a long one, and I am of the firm belief that our government resources would be better used elsewhere. It is time we join the rest of the western world and leave the days of execution in the past where they belong.
Briley Rakow is a sophomore integrated marketing communications major from Lemont, Illinois.