Lately I’ve been reading the book Edison & the Electric Chair: A Story of Life and Death by Mark Essig. It is fascinating to watch how our understanding of electricity developed. Also, that someone thought to write about the development of the electric chair as an alternate or more “humane” way of execution from the standpoint of the men who developed electricity.
It is interesting that the death penalty was thought as “barbaric” so early in American history. In fact it says in the book that Michigan was the first English-speaking legislative body to explicitly end capital punishment in 1840-something. Edison was even against it though he helped create the electric chair as a more humane method than the rope and to prove the “dangers” of alternating current as opposed to his own direct current systems. Edison was not, in my opinion, a particularly moral man. He neglected his first wife to an early death and remarried soon to someone only six years older than his daughter. He said himself he was not really religious. I think we would find that most who are opposed to the death penalty are also not religious. Interesting. It should be the opposite, especially in Christianity. I think that these people (despite their possible protests) fundamentally look upon themselves and others as being acted upon rather than by any evil emanating from within oneself. There is always someone or something to blame for all our actions, therefore we are ultimately not responsible for any of our actions, including the murderer.
Here’s what I think. The death penalty is not for retribution or revenge, or even justice, it s about eliminating permanently the danger of having a murderer (or rapist, etc.) in our society. Locking him up for life is not necessarily permanent. Slick lawyers or health problems may get him out. Also, he is getting three square meals a day and is exempt from hard labor which is apparently “cruel and unusual punishment” according to the courts. (They closed down a 100 year old prisoner-run brick-making factory in Virginia because it was “cruel and unusual,” never-mind that bricks are made the same way in the free world.) And let us not forget about the possibility of the prisoner escaping.
I believe the victim’s (or the victim’s survivor’s) rights take precedence over the convicted person’s rights. If I’m the victim of a violent crime or my loved one was, I would sleep easier at night knowing that the perpetrator is dead or sent to the “next world” rather than living in better comfort than almost all my ancestors in some prison society. Some convicted murders have become famous as children’s book writers and such—an opportunity their victims will never have. They also have the power, even from prison, to influence society or get their voices heard. There are plenty of psychotic “bleeding hearts” out there willing to listen and give them a voice—again a chance their victims will never have. If a life sentence is “worse than death” as some say, why don’t I ever hear of convicted murders (even confessed ones) pleading for the death penalty?
I agree that executions should be humane. We run the risk of encouraging sadism by torturing them, and there is no real satisfaction in making them suffer for the victim’s sake. They simply need to be eliminated from society, even prison society, for the sake of the victim’s or their families peace of mind and the future safety of society. Another issue is the cost. If justice were as swift as it should be, society would not have to carry the enormous cost of housing, feeding, health care, never-ending legal fees, and guarding of the prisoner for the rest of their life (probably 50 years or more).