martedì 21 luglio 2015

It’s time for Tennessee to reconsider the death penalty

The Tennessean
In light of issues across the nation concerning police brutality, overcriminalization, mass incarceration and more, it is time to directly face the issue of the death penalty.
The death penalty system in the United States as a whole, and Tennessee in particular, is broken. In examining the way that this system functions, four major issues arise.

First, the death penalty is unfairly applied.

A defendant who is convicted of murdering a white person is three times more likely to receive the death penalty than if the victim is black — and African-Americans make up half of all homicide victims.

Additionally, 40 percent of Tennessee’s death row comes from Shelby County, while half of the counties in Tennessee have never sent anyone to death row. Where you live should not be relevant in matters of justice.

A 2010 report by the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) titled “Illegal Racial Discrimination in Jury Selection: A Continuing Legacy” also uncovered shocking evidence of discrimination in every state regarding jury selection.

EJI discovered counties where nearly 80 percent of black residents who qualified for jury service were excluded and majority-black counties where defendants were tried by all-white juries.

Second, there are practical concerns about state resources.

We need money in our community for infrastructure, education, police and emergency services, public transportation and many other things.

According to The Death Penalty Information Center, the average cost of a death penalty case is $1.26 million, compared to $740,000 for a life-without-parole case.

Additionally, it costs $1 million more per year to keep people on death row in Tennessee than it would to put them with the general prison population for life sentences.

Put simply, the death penalty is not the best use of the public’s money.

Third, the death penalty risks the execution of the innocent.

Since 1973, 154 people have been released from death rows when evidence of their innocence emerged, including three in Tennessee.

In April, Anthony Ray Hinton was released from Alabama’s death row after serving 30 years for a crime the evidence shows he didn’t commit. Executing an innocent person is an unacceptable risk.

Further, when death is the alternative, sometimes innocent people will accept a plea bargain and falsely admit to taking a life in order to save their own. In fact, according to the Innocence Project, more than one out of four people exonerated by DNA evidence made a false confession or incriminating statement at some point.

And finally, we could be doing more for victims’ families.

Increasingly, victims’ family members are speaking out in favor of life without parole because it provides more legal finality and doesn’t drag them through a decades-long process that may not even result in an execution.

The defendant begins serving the sentence immediately, while valuable resources are freed up to provide more services and support for these hurting families.

In the end, the death penalty system takes up too much of our valuable time and resources while we’re trying to work through all the other problems our criminal justice system is facing.

We want to see real criminal justice reform for our nation and for Tennessee.

Let’s begin by having a real conversation about the death penalty.

The Rev. Dr. Judy Cummings is the senior pastor at New Covenant Christian Church in Nashville and the president of the Interdenominational Ministers Fellowship (IMF). Rep. Harold M. Love Jr., D-Nashville, represents the people of District 58 and is the president-elect of the IMF.

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