Conservatives are rethinking the death penalty

Marc Hyden R Street Institute
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It’s been hard to escape the growing number of conservatives raising questions about capital punishment during the past year. Since launching at CPAC in March 2013, Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty has been giving voice to national and state conservative leaders who are actively speaking out against capital punishment. Today, the national narrative about the death penalty is changing.

Conservatives of all ages and from across the nation and the conservative ideological spectrum are increasingly seeing the death penalty for what it is – a wasteful and expensive government program that risks innocent lives and doesn’t make us any safer. At the forefront of this national dialogue are conservative stalwarts such as media watchdog Brent Bozell, conservative litigator Jay Sekulow, fundraising icon Richard Viguerie, pro-life advocate Abby Johnson, award-winning political blogger Julie Borowski, and former presidential candidate Dr. Ron Paul, to name a few. Their dedication to conservative principles drives their concerns about the death penalty.

This momentum shouldn’t surprise anyone because the death penalty is ridden with failures that run contrary to conservative thinking. Conservatives believe in limiting the power of the state and protecting innocent lives. Reconciling capital punishment with these basic conservative principles is difficult; over 140 individuals have been exonerated after being sentenced to death. Human fallibility in the criminal justice system puts innocent lives at risk, even with today’s technology. DNA evidence is available in less than 10 percent of all criminal cases, and sometimes so-called forensic science is flawed.

Conservatives also believe in putting a stop to runaway government spending, and the dramatically increased cost of the death penalty, versus life-without-parole, is antithetical to fiscal prudence. It’s widely understood that the death penalty is far more expensive than life-without-parole – sometimes as much as 10 times more costly. There’s even a lengthy history of capital punishment pushing county budgets to the brink of bankruptcy and leading to tax increases.

It’s no wonder why support for the death penalty in America has dropped to a 40 year low (Gallup 2013), and there is ample reason to believe the shift in conservative thinking is a prime reason. For example, a recent poll in North Carolina (Public Policy Polling 2013) found that 68 percent of North Carolinians support repealing and replacing the death penalty with a system of life-without-parole while the offender works to pay restitution to the victims’ families. The majority of those polled were self-described conservatives.

In fact, North Carolina is one of over a half dozen historically red states where conservatives are in the process of bringing together their own conservative groups to raise awareness of the death penalty’s failures. Their members are establishment Republicans, fiscal and social conservatives, tea partiers, libertarians, Evangelicals, Catholics, and voters who are simply ready for commonsense in government. They know the system is broken and that no matter how hard we’ve tried, it can’t be fixed. For a growing number of conservatives, the time has come to stop wasting time, money, and lives, and move on from the death penalty.

America’s discussion over the justice of capital punishment has been altered by conservative leaders who are publicly expressing their doubts about the death penalty. At one time, it may have seemed taboo for a conservative to do so, but today, the ones questioning the death penalty are some of the staunchest and most effective.

Marc Hyden serves as the Advocacy Coordinator with Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty, a Project of EJUSA.