There’s been a lot of discussion of the death penalty lately, due to the recent execution of Stanley Tookie Williams, founder of the Crips gang, and convicted murderer. Tom Harrison explains some of the reasons he supports the death penalty.
I’m opposed to the death penalty for several reasons, chief of which is the demonstrated fallibility of the system. There have been a fair number of executions of convicts that were later found to have been innocent. Although neither the death penalty nor years spent in prison are reversible, there is at least some benefit to being able to release an exonerated prisoner.
However, given that it is a penalty provided by law, and that he was convicted, sentenced, and the sentence upheld throughout the appeals process, I don’t have any complaint about this specific execution.
There seem to be four basic concepts behind criminal sentences:
- protecting society from further harm
My personal opinion is that the harshest sentence imposed by the court should be life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. This satisifes what I consider to be the main objective of the penal system in such a case: keepinng the convicted criminal from being a further danger to society. I am not convinced that there is any reason that the government needs to be in the business of punishment or retribution (even though the families of victims may desire it), and I would expect a life sentence to have basically the same deterrent value as execution. I’m not convinced that it’s possible to reform a person that commits a particularly heinous violent crime, but even if reform is possible, proving that a criminal is reformed and no longer a threat to society is not possible.
But I also think that prisoners who are judged to be of sound mind should be able to choose “assisted suicide” as an alternative. I think if I were sentenced to life or to a very long prison term, and I didn’t have much hope of being released, I’d probably prefer the assisted suicide option. However, maybe I’d feel differently if I were to actually find myself in that position.
There has also been controversy in California recently over whether minors should be tried as adults for particularly heinous crimes, and whether they should be sentenced as adults. Currently California law prohibits execution of those that committed crimes as minors.
My opinion is that for heinous crimes, minors should be tried and sentenced as adults. Youth may be a justification for reduced penalties for minor crimes, but even children should be aware of the seriousness of attacking another human being. If a child is so antisocial as to commit such a crime, I fail to see any reason to believe that society does not require just as much protection from them as from an adult.