Let us suppose that killing as a form of punishment is a moral and universally accepted practice. Would it then be acceptable to issue this irreparable sanction to a select few while allowing others, equally accountable, to avoid it? It is acceptable to our criminal justice system for it seems to be standard operating procedure. Many embrace the death penalty based on the "eye for an eye" concept. There is certainly some merit to this argument and it seems quite fair and logical. Unfortunately our use of the death penalty is neither fair nor logical. Our criminal justice system's "lip service" to the age-old concept is an insulting disguise for such an obscurity of fairness and logic. The death penalty is frivolous and discriminatory in its procedure because of the unreasonable prices we pay to execute certain groups at much higher rates than others.
We pay different prices for using a death penalty. Sadly, today more than ever, the dollar seems to be the endlessly interchangeable standard of value. We strive to make money, save money and when we spend money we do so with a valued return in mind. Accordingly, a popular argument contends that we spend too much money incarcerating prisoners for life. We probably do but the price tag on issuing a death sentence according to a Florida study is $3.1 million compared to $1 million for a life sentence; a 3100% difference (Walker 1994, 108). Imagine your death being valued at $3.1 million - how flattering. Based on these figures, the difference in the price of an execution and the price of life behind bars is enough to feed 7,200 starving children for ten years. The price of an execution is amazing. Naturally, for such a price, we should consider our "valued" return. In return for an execution we receive utter incapacitation; an essential return indeed but we get the same from a life sentence at a fraction of the cost. What else do we get? Perhaps we satisfy a need for revenge. Perhaps we feel that we need to keep revenge alive at any price. After all, we pay top dollar for it. So who exactly is the target of our vengeance and why? From 1930 to 1980 executions for whites numbered 1754 compared to 2066 for blacks (Bedau 1982). In 1978 blacks claimed 4888 murder victims. Of these, 536 were white or 12% (Bedau 1982). About half the death row population was black and 85% of their victims were white (Bedau 1982). Blacks who kill whites have a 25% chance of receiving the death penalty while whites have a 0% chance of receiving it for killing a black. For a black person, killing a white person could be deadly.
Our criminal justice system's use of the death penalty appears increasingly void of rationale when we consider the other prices we pay. Executions take up to fifteen years or longer (Walker 1994,106). We not only pay for executions but incarceration as well! There is also the ultimate price. In the wake of the criminal justice system's quest to lethally condemn a specific offender, some innocently accused are gassed, hanged and electrocuted in the name of retribution. There are twenty-three known cases of the innocent being put to death by the "state" (Walker 1994,106). Oops. The process of the death penalty is not only frivolous. It is reckless as well.
The criminal justice system is discriminatory in its use of the death penalty. If the overwhelming bias in the process of the death penalty isn't convincing then perhaps the phenomenal expenditures are. Either way we look we find a gross absurdity. The funding of the death penalty is frivolous, its fairness is unrealistic and its process as a whole is unconscionable.