Death Penalty Support Continues to Slip

With 39 executions in 2013, this year marks only the second time in nearly 20 years that the U.S. has executed less than 40 people according to a year end report released by Death Penalty Information Center. These numbers represent about a 10% decline from 2012.

“Twenty years ago, use of the death penalty was increasing. Now it is declining by almost every measure,” said Richard Dieter, DPIC’s Executive Director and the author of the report. “The recurrent problems of the death penalty have made its application rare, isolated, and often delayed for decades. More states will likely reconsider the wisdom of retaining this expensive and ineffectual practice.”

Still with its pursuit of execution dates for at least ten people, Tennessee is moving in the opposite direction of much of the nation. Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey recently had an op-ed in The Tennessean that encouraged the resumption of executions in the state with no acknowledgement of the mounting evidence of flaws throughout Tennessee’s death penalty system. In a 2007 report conducted by Tennessee experts for the American Bar Association, the experts discovered that of 93 guidelines for a fair and accurate death penalty system, Tennessee fully complies with only seven.  Tennessee has released four men from death row after decades of litigation when evidence of their innocence was discovered. These men are free not because the system worked but despite the system’s every effort to keep them on death row.

Lt. Governor Ramsey also fails to mention the expense of the system to taxpayers. Nowhere does he acknowledge that maintaining Tennessee’s death penalty system costs taxpayers millions more than the alternatives of life or life without parole.  As a fiscal, limited government conservative, I would hope Lt. Gov. Ramsey would be concerned with such a bloated, expensive, inefficient system and instead of pushing to resume executions, would push to comprehensively study its cost to the state.

As I travel the state talking to Tennesseans, what I discover is that support for the death penalty is a mile wide and an inch deep.  Tennesseans deserve better than this broken, expensive, ineffective system and more than ever, Tennesseans are moving away from their support of the death penalty.

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