Going National

Now I don’t have a TV, and Stacy doesn’t have cable, but for those of you who do, check out MSNBC tomorrow morning at 9:00. What you’ll see live is me on a program with Senator Doug Jackson discussing legislation that Jackson has recently sponsored to expand the use of the death penalty to apply to those convicted of the aggravated rape of a child, with no murder involved. By the way, Senator Jackson is a fair and well intentioned public official. He is generally thoughtful and truly has the best interests of Tennesseans at heart. He is also sponsoring a bill this year to conduct a full and complete study of Tennessee’s death penalty system so we can address the huge problems with the the injustice and inaccuracy that plague our capital punishment system.

This piece of legislation (Senate Bill 22) however, is not a good piece of public policy. While most of us respond extremely viscerally to the idea of a child being raped, we need to make sure that our response is focused on helping to heal that child and protect them from further victimization. In this case, this bill does the opposite for three reasons:

  1. If we make the death penalty available for child rapists, we remove any incentive they might have to keep their victim alive. In fact, if they can be executed either way, they would be more likely to murder their victim do eliminate a witness.
  2. Most child rapes and sexual assaults are committed by people the child knows, often a family member. If the child knows that a family member could face execution, they are less likely to report the rape, thus leading to further traumatization for them as well as leaving them, and other children, at risk by leaving a potential sexual predator on the streets.
  3. According to the fiscal note attached to this bill, the state will spend over $15,000,000.00 a year to enact this policy, while only executing perhaps 2 people a year, with actual executions not beginning for 10-15 years. Certainly there are better ways to help our children with $15,000,000.00

I’m looking forward to the program. I’m sure it will be a lively and spirited debate. Hopefully some of you can watch it, and maybe join in. Maybe I should get cable after all.

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