Conservative lawmakers nationwide are re-thinking their positions on capital punishment because numerous problems that have come to light.
Last year, Republicans sponsored death penalty repeal bills in at least eight states including many so-called “red states” like ours, including Ohio, Kentucky, Missouri, Georgia, Utah, and Kansas.
In fact, GOP state lawmakers played a role in all of the most recent states to repeal capital punishment. Republicans supported or co-sponsored bills in Virginia in 2021, in Colorado in 2020, and in New Hampshire in 2019, where 40-percent of the Republican senate caucus voted to override their GOP governor’s veto.
Wrongful convictions, executions are main areas of concern
As a limited government conservative who thinks the government should have less power, not more, I can’t help but wonder why the state has been granted the power to take a life when our legal system has made so many mistakes.
To date, 190 people have been freed from death rows across the country due to wrongful convictions. Here in Tennessee, three innocent people have been released from death row. Regardless of how one feels about the death penalty, it is distressing that the state makes so many mistakes and gets it wrong so often when a human life is on the line.
Evidence suggests that some innocent people have even been executed. How many innocent lives are we willing to sacrifice in this process? I am disturbed by our willingness to accept capital punishment in spite of all of it flaws.
I am pro-life and believe that pro-life means whole life. The execution of even one innocent person is unacceptable.
Is the death penalty truly effective?
We can all agree that people who commit serious crimes should be held accountable for their actions. Most people also agree that factors such as one’s race, how much money one has for a lawyer, or the county one lives in should not influence this process.
Shelby County is responsible for half of Tennessee’s death row and yet the crime rate there continues to climb, because executing people who are already incarcerated does not make us safer. Solving more crimes, providing mental health services, and helping vulnerable kids are much more effective policies for building safe communities.
As a fiscal conservative, I look at whether policies are fiscally sound. How much are we spending on Tennessee’s death penalty and what are we getting for it? Tennessee does not even track the full costs of the death penalty to taxpayers, but from the research that has been done, states like Tennessee spend millions more pursuing the death penalty than they would spend on alternative sentences like life without parole.
The death penalty does not provide truth in sentencing, and makes false promises to victims’ families. Fewer than 1 in 20 death sentences over the last 50 years have resulted in an execution. A death sentence is 12 times more likely to be reversed as a result of a court decision than it is to result in an execution. With the death penalty, surviving families of murder victims spend decades in a legal process that keeps them trapped in their trauma. Alternative sentences would provide legal finality much sooner, sometimes as soon as the trial is over.
This is not justice. It is a waste of public safety resources that could be reallocated to law enforcement training, better forensics to solve more crimes, crime prevention initiatives, or benefits for victims’ families.
The closer I look at the death penalty, the more problems I see. The death penalty is a flawed policy that would be better left in the past.
Jasmine Woodson serves as Tennessee Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty (TNCC) Coordinator. Prior to coming to TNCC, Jasmine served as Assistant State Director and Recruiting Coordinator for the Blexit Foundation and as a lobbyist with For All Tennessee, where she advocated for criminal legal reform legislation at the local and state level.