by Marc Hyden
Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty is a national network of conservatives questioning the alignment of capital punishment with conservative principles. We came together to shatter the myth that conservatives blindly support the death penalty, as well as to create a forum to network and to speak collectively about the need to re-examine capital punishment from a conservative perspective.
This effort began a few years ago in Montana where elected conservative leaders discovered they were not alone in opposing this expensive and often inaccurate government program. As the local movement grew, overwhelming grassroots support demanded a national group be formed which sparked the initiative to create Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty. We officially debuted at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) where we were inundated by conservative supporters. The most common question we heard at CPAC was “[w]here have you been for so long? I thought I was the only conservative who believes the death penalty should be repealed.”
Conservatives from across the country are questioning the death penalty because it is a wasteful and expensive government program with an unacceptable probability of executing an innocent person . It is a failed policy for victims’ families and fails to make the public safer. This is a dangerous government program that is arbitrarily and unfairly administered.
Conservatives across the board have come to the conclusion that the death penalty is a broken system for many different reasons.
One big factor is the unacceptable risk of executing an innocent person. Since 1976, more than 140 people have been freed from death row after being wrongfully convicted. Many others have been executed after serious doubt was raised regarding their innocence. Regardless of good intentions, the judicial system cannot be right 100% of the time, and conservatives are wary of any government program – most especially one designed to kill U.S. citizens. Many have said a government so powerful it can put its citizens to death, is, indeed, too powerful.
For fiscal conservatives, the cost of the death penalty is indefensible. Several studies have shown that death penalty cases are up to 20 times more expensive than comparable cases with the sentence of life without the possibility of release. It is far less expensive to incarcerate an inmate for life than to go through the death penalty process. This is widely accepted. Capital punishment is a bloated and inefficient program that siphons funds away from public safety programs and the taxpayers.
Some have stated that we should keep the death penalty and just make it “cheaper” by shortening the appeals process, but this would virtually guarantee the execution of innocent people. Many have been exonerated after spending as much as 33 years on death row and exhausting all avenues of the appeals process. Many states have tried repeatedly to “fix” the system without success.
The death penalty fails victims’ families which it is supposed to help serve. To be meaningful, justice should be swift and sure. The death penalty is neither. It prolongs pain for victims’ families, dragging them through an often decades-long process that promises an execution but rarely delivers on that promise. The death penalty showers resources and attention on a few cherry-picked cases, telling families that some lives are more important than others.
The death penalty also fails to serve as a deterrent to murder, which is one of the things its supporters say it is supposed to do. The National Research Council examined more than 30 years of statistical data and studies and found no credible evidence that the death penalty deters; yet another failure of the death penalty system.
Many conservatives tell us they oppose the death penalty because of their pro-life views, believing that life extends from conception to natural death. While some that hold pro-life views make the exception that this is reserved for innocent life only, the judicial system has proven time and time again it makes mistakes in matters of innocence.
Still, other conservatives have come to the same conclusion through their own faith. Many believe that matters of life and death are best left up to God. They also claim that the death penalty ignores the possibility of redemption and may even prevent it from occurring.
Across our nation the number of death sentences is dropping and polls are showing support for capital punishment at an all-time low. According to Richard Viguerie, known as the “Funding Father” of the conservative movement and one of our supporters, “[t]his trend is not limited to bleeding-heart liberals and crime coddlers.” Jay Sekulow, Chief Counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice and a commentator on Fox News stated “[c]onservatives should question how the death penalty system actually works in order to stay true to small government, reduction in wasteful spending, and respect for human life.”
Conservatives everywhere are joining together in the fight to repeal this wasteful and overreaching government program. Even those who believe in capital punishment are beginning to accept that the death penalty system is irrevocably broken and should be ended.
Marc Hyden serves as the Advocacy Coordinator with Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty. Prior to this work, Marc was a Campaign Field Representative with the National Rifle Association, Campaign Manager for Republican campaigns, the Legislative Liaison with the Georgia Office of Homeland Security, and Legislative Aide to the Georgia Senate President Pro Tempore.