Steven Taliaferro, Laura Gomez, Peter Paguaga, Ivy Patrick
Special to the Southern News
The recent death sentencing of Steven Hayes has raised the question of whether capital punishment is a good deterrent to crime and whether funding is being spent appropriately between prisons and schools.
“We obviously have to put money into a lot of other things, but education really has to be at the very top or near the very top for our own future,” said Prof. Jon Bloch of the Sociology Department at SCSU. “That would be a positive thing. I think there would be fewer criminals if our schools were better and more accessible.”
In the state of Connecticut, $13,848 taxpayers’ dollars are invested per pupil. The cost per inmate in the Connecticut prison system is $32,218, according to SunshineReview.org, a nonprofit organization advocating local government transparency and Community Partners in Action, a nonprofit organization helping those affected by the criminal justice system, respectively.
According to a survey of the former and present presidents of the country’s top academic criminological societies, 88 percent of these experts rejected the notion that the death penalty acts as a deterrent to murder. The Death Penalty Information Center commissioned a poll in 2009 that found police chiefs ranked the death penalty last among ways to reduce violent crime. They also considered the death penalty the least efficient use of taxpayers’ money.
“Money being spent in a system that fails to rehabilitate criminals versus in a system that educates people and potentially prevents them from becoming criminals, seems a waste of resources,” said Bloch. “That says about our society that we really don’t know what we are doing and the current system is a vicious cycle.”
Bloch said early intervention with at-risk children will do more to prevent crime than the prison system does.
“One thing people may not realize is that in today’s world, being on death row actually costs more money over time than being incarcerated,” said Bloch. “It is not only very expensive to incarcerate someone, but it is even more expensive to have them on death row.”
Bloch said the public might think of the death penalty as an accurate punishment for vicious and violent crimes, but what the public does not realize is that “the justice system should be more compassionate than the criminal.”
Prof. Joel Meisel of the Education Department said he disagrees with the way money is being designated to prisons and schools, because students find hope for the future in education.
“The death penalty is eliminating people from society that are a harm to [it], but it is not like they are learning anything from it,” said Meisel. “They are kept in jail for tons of money, when the same money can be used on students.”
He said both justice and education are important because a child cannot be in the school system without the understanding of justice.
Political science professor Kevin Buterbaugh said he is opposed to the death penalty, not because of the cost, but because of the moral aspect.
“The cost is not necessarily a reason to oppose it. I am opposed to it because of the mistakes that are made and it’s done unevenly,” said Buterbaugh. “Obviously spending more money on your justice system might insure that there are fewer mistakes made and it’s less unequal in terms of its treatment.”
Bloch said there needs to be a better system in place in order to reduce crime.
According to him, capital punishment fails to do so because criminals do not think in
terms of getting caught. So the death penalty or life in prisons are not options they have considered.
“In fact,” Bloch said, “sometimes, just like in families when parents are too strict, the kids might actually be less obedient because they want to rebel.”
According to Bloch education should be more of a priority because a system that teaches knowledge and skill and gets people excited about knowing about the world and their lives and which provides them with good strategies and philosophies on how to live will be more effective over time.
“We continue to put more money into military spending than anything else,” said Bloch, “while the U.S. educational system is not generally considered the best in the world. Part of the problem is that we are not putting enough resources into education.”
In a society where education is not easily accessible and signifies high costs and debt, it is more likely that people will resort to crime to make a living rather than invest in education, said Bloch.
“Trying to rehabilitate a criminal is after the fact–is after someone has already been hurt. In the school system there could be an intervention before the fact,” said Bloch.
Everything takes resources, said Bloch, it’s a matter of deciding whether to invest those resources punishing or preventing.
Bloch said it is a complicated situation, nonetheless.
“It is really a mess and I think it is probably going to get worse and not get better,” said
Philosophy professor Xiaomei Yang said the current ethical search of the death penalty involves a lot of mistakes.
“I think since DNA evidence has been available in the 1980s,” Yang said, “there are at least more than 100 people on death row that have been exonerated. So, of course, we don’t know. There could have been more innocent people that are now sitting in death row.”
Yang said the United States is not that desperate to have the death penalty.