Away with the death penalty, let prisoners sweat for salvation

Courtesy of Torange
Courtesy of Torange

 

California hasn’t executed anyone in nine years and a certain pro-death penalty group has waited long enough. They recently proposed a ballot extending prison labor to inmates on death row, as well as provided new deadlines for the appeals process. Evidently, the latter is meant to expedite executions in California, while the former is probably just to make sure they’re not having too much fun chilling in solitary confinement. Life in a small, windowless concrete cage is too luxurious, apparently.

An anti-death penalty measure has been proposed in opposition, which also requires inmates to work. However, instead of ultimately being executed, they are simply sentenced to life without parole.

In both proposals, the inmates’ earnings would go to the families of those they have harmed. Californians will be able to vote on either one of the measures on the November 2016 ballot.

Personally, I believe that our entire prison system needs reform, but in regards to these measures I prefer the lesser of the two evils: anti-death, life without parole and requirement to pay restitution.

From issues like overcrowding and unsanitary living conditions, it is evident that prison life is deplorable. Instead of focusing on reform and rehabilitation for these misguided individuals, we have a justice system centered on retribution and punishment. Yes, these people are criminals and have committed grave wrongdoings — but are they not people as well? Can’t they be considered as victims of circumstance?

Granted, they’ve committed crimes so heinous that people can justify exterminating them completely. Advocates of the death penalty argue that by taking the life of another person, murderers have surrendered their own right to live. Also, by executing these murderers, the victims’ families are given necessary closure.

Such a mentality is dangerous because it justifies killing in the name of justice — it implies that murder is okay in certain circumstances. This only promotes violence and vengeance. Furthermore, prisoners are usually on death row for years before finally being assigned an execution date. The family’s grieving is prolonged, and they are trapped in the shadow of tragedy until “justice is served.”

This is especially true for the 750 criminals on California’s death row. California’s last execution was in 2006, and it has only executed 13 inmates since it reinstated capital punishment in 1978. Uncertainty surrounding the constitutionality of the three-drug execution method along with inadequate representation and overall inefficiency of the appeal system has delayed the demise of these inmates, and has ultimately delayed “closure” for their victims’ families.

Admittedly, having hundreds of inmates living on death row is not ideal. It is already difficult to accommodate them as it is, and providing for them (no matter how miserable the conditions) is expensive. Many of them either commit suicide or die of illnesses.

If the anti-death measure passes, inmates will have the opportunity to be productive and offer monetary compensation for their crime. It’s true that a person’s life is priceless, but money has a higher value than sentiment. Especially since the prisoners hardly have much of a life in prison anyway, executing them just puts them out of their misery. If vengeance is the persuasion behind capital punishment, then the idea that victims are reaping the fruits of the perpetrator’s labor should elicit some twisted satisfaction.

The pro-death measure is simply cruel —  it requires people already sentenced to death to participate in labor. It’s like rubbing salt on an open wound. Also, the value of their work might be lousy since they figure that they’re going to die anyways.

At least without the death penalty looming over them, there’s a chance of redemption. Since the inmate’s earnings will go directly to the victim’s family, there’s a higher sense of accountability and obligation. Every day is a physical reminder of their wrongdoing, and though it would never be completely rectified it’s still an opportunity to show remorse.

Though the anti-death measure would still require murderers to be incarcerated for life, it would still make our justice system appear more forgiving. Allowing them to work and compensate for their crime as opposed to disposing of them might just be the first step to a more tolerant society.

 

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