Troy Davis & The Death Penalty: Race, Cost & Repercussions

The execution of Troy Davis on September 21st has fueled a lot of discussion on the death penalty in recent days. Of course there are the extremists who call for the abolition of the death penalty all together.  There are the moderates who believe that the death penalty needs some tweaking, like more appeal opportunities, longer death row time, etc.  And then there are the hooligans who think Troy Davis was only convicted because he was a black man who killed a white man.

In evaluating the death penalty, there are several aspects that one must take into consideration.  First and foremost, the death penalty is NOT a deterrent for crime.  It is a punishment for committing a crime.  The death penalty, like many other foundations of America, is based on Biblical values.  And in actuality, the death penalty has become so humane, that it is no longer feared.  Criminals are lucky that they aren’t executed in the same fashion by which they took a life.

Death row is often times considered to be a “second punishment” in addition to the actual execution.  But how is this any different from a life sentence? And isn’t it a bit hypocritical to say that jail time is punishment, when the same groups are extending the length of time in jail by appeals and stays and retrials?  Craig Haney, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz said, “People on death row live under the threat of death, which is of course an extraordinary psychological trauma, and they are denied most of the ways that people make life in prison more tolerable: meaningful social activity,
programming of any kind, activities,” but again, prison is a punishment so why must it be tolerable, or comfortable, or enjoyable? The conditions are pretty nice. All states offer television and a limited number of states offer educational training and group recreation time.

Some interesting facts about the death penalty, for those who are so against it:

  • On average, 13 years elapses between the time a death sentence is handed down
    and carried out. (1)
  • In Kentucky, more people on death row have died of natural causes than have been executed in the last 30 years. (1)
  • Almost all people facing the death penalty cannot afford their own attorney. The state must assign them two public defenders, and pay for the costs of the prosecution as well. (2)
  • The rate at which death penalties are handed down at sentencing has gone down dramatically over the last twelve years, with slow-downs occurring in almost every state that still allows the death penalty, including the southern region (4)

Dragging on the process of appeals is costly.  It costs $90,000 more annually to house a death row inmate than it does someone sentenced to life imprisonment.

Another misconception? African Americans make up the majority of death row. Wrong. According to the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC), 43.68% of inmates on death row are white, 41.77% are African American, 12.12% are Latino and the remaining 2.43% are categorized “other”.  Further, many believe that the South is more likely to sentence a black man to death row than a white man, but Alabama has equal numbers of both, and Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee have more white men on death row (3).

You don’t have to support the death penalty. You can certainly move to one of the 16 states that has banned it: Alaska, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia or Wisconsin. Or better yet, another country.



2 thoughts on “Troy Davis & The Death Penalty: Race, Cost & Repercussions

  1. Jon

    Hello again,

    Very interesting read. Just to clarify on the “African Americans make up the majority of death row inmates” point, the problem comes into play when you consider the proportion of white citizens to black citizens. Using U.S. census data, non-Latino whites make up approximately 64% of the population while Blacks comprise about 12%, and yet they are being sentenced to death at very close to the same rate.

    To some extent, though, this disparity is more of an issue with socioeconomic status than just race (since those two tend to be linked). The poorer you are, the less likely you are to be able to hire a competent lawyer, and thus the less likely you are to receive appropriate representation during the trial. Poverty rates are considerably higher among minorities than among whites. For some more info, here is the International Bar Association’s take:

    So, to my eyes, the question is how certain do you need to be of someone’s guilt before they receive the death penalty? Are you certain those on death row are the ones who have committed the worst crimes, or just the ones with the worst lawyers? I get that the Bible advocates the death penalty for murder (as well as adultery, false claims of virginity, and working on the Sabbath, but is it truly enforcing God’s law if we act without complete certainty? That is what concerns me about the death penalty – there is no going back. If you wrongfully imprison someone, you’ve probably ruined most of their life, but there may be hope. A wrongful execution is a permanent problem.

  2. Brad

    Very thought provoking post. Certainly not a topic that will ever achieve a consensus.

    Jon, I appreciate some of the points you highlight. It would be more accurate and appropriate to compare the racial breakdown of defendants charged with crimes carrying the death penalty to the breakdown of convictions (those on death row) though. The statistic that could indicate a racial bias would be the sentencing rate after a conviction, i.e. are Blacks convicted of crimes carrying the death penalty convicted at a significantly higher rate then Whites convicted of the same crimes? But to say that Blacks comprise about 12 percent of the population and therefore should only comprise 12 percent of death row inmates only works in a vacuum. That doesn’t take into account what the racial breakdown of those committing crimes carrying a death sentence is. To hold to the former would be similar to saying that if labrador retrievers comprise 10 percent of the dog population then it should be expected that labradors would be responsible for 10 percent of fatal dog attacks. Racial composition of a society doesn’t translate directly to it’s components. I find it unlikely that Whites comprise 64 percent of doctors, architects, U.S. Presidents, school teachers, scholarship receiving harpists, and NBA players. So why should this demographic indicator correlate directly to death row inmates?

    As for how certain should the state be prior to carrying out an execution, beyond a reasonable doubt as ultimately determined by a court of law. The standard is not without a shred of doubt. Their are few things in life that exist without any doubt, especially those things that require a level of judgment. The very act of “judging” requires one to employ opinion and is never without any doubt.

    I do not envy anyone that is involved in determining and carrying through with executing a fellow man. However, in the case of Troy Davis, it took nearly two decades for his sentence to be carried out in which he received due process with numerous appeals. This was not a swift and impulsive event. Now contrast that to the overwhelming supportive reaction to the death of Osama Bin Laden. Did the same offended and ashamed with Georgia for carrying out a sentence that a jury, judge and appellate courts determined to be just also take up their signs in protest over his execution without they same due process afforded Troy Davis. Maybe they did, but I sure missed that.


Have something to say?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s