Poll finds growing aversion to death penalty

Holman Prison in Alabama is the site of Death Row.


NEW YORK, Nov 16 (IPS) – A clear majority of U.S. voters – 61 percent – would choose a punishment other than death for murder if given a choice, the Death Penalty Information Centre said recently as it released the results of “one of the most comprehensive studies ever conducted” of U.S. citizens’ views on capital punishment.
In a national poll of 1,500 registered voters conducted by Lake Research Partners, alternative punishments to execution included life with no possibility of parole and with restitution to the victim’s family (39 percent), life with no possibility of parole (13 percent), or life with the possibility of parole (nine percent).
The researchers said the survey “shows growing support for alternatives to the death penalty compared with previous polls.”
The research shows that in states with the death penalty, a plurality of voters said it would make no difference in their vote if a representative supported repeal of the death penalty; and a majority (62 percent) said either it would make no difference (38 percent) or they would be more likely to vote for such a representative (24 percent).

Death Penalty no longer
political liability

“For decades, politicians have equated being tough on crime with support for the death penalty, but this research suggests voters want their elected officials to be smart on crime, use tax dollars wisely, and fund the services they care about the most,” Richard Dieter, executive director of Death Penalty Information Centre, told IPS during a telephone news conference.
“We see a real openness to considering life with no possibility for parole as a punishment for murder and a real awareness among Americans of the many problems with the death penalty,” said pollster Celinda Lake. “It is likely we will see Americans moving away from support for the death penalty as states and local governments grapple with tight budgets and as today’s younger voters and Latinos move into the core of the electorate,”
Since the start of 2009, many states, such as Maryland, Colorado, Connecticut, Montana, Kansas, and New Mexico considered legislation to repeal the death penalty, and it is expected that trend will continue in 2011.
Voters ranked the death penalty the lowest on a list of budget priorities and expressed strong support for replacing the death penalty with life without parole, if the money saved was used to fund crime prevention programmes.
In 2011, about five states are expected to consider repeal legislation.
The poll dug deeply into citizens’ thinking about the death penalty and the problems they see in this punishment. Additional key findings from the polling research include:
Cost emerged as an important concern for a strong majority of respondents. Sixty-eight percent said cost was a very or somewhat convincing argument against the death penalty.
Voters ranked emergency services, creating jobs, police and crime prevention, schools and libraries, public health care services, and roads and transportation as more important budget priorities than the death penalty. Hispanic voters were among those most willing to replace the death penalty with an alternative punishment. They responded most strongly to moral objections to the death penalty rooted in faith, as well as the argument that the death penalty is particularly unfair along racial lines.
The poll explored the information that the public uses to make up its mind about the death penalty and the problems they see with this punishment.

Alabama View of
Death Penalty

Esther Brown, Executive Director of Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty made the following comments on the death penalty in Alabama, to supplement this report on the national poll results.
She stated, “Alabama ranked 27th when it comes to population, yet in 2009 we were second only to Texas when it came to executions. This year with five executions we will be ranked third!
“Alabama has the highest per capita death row population (50% African American) and sentences more people to death because we are the only state where an elected judge (only 5% African American), can override the recommendation of 12 jurors for life without parole.
“We are also the only state that has no state-wide public defender’s office, pays court appointed attorneys very little and does not provide attorneys for post-conviction appeals. And we are still not in compliance with US Supreme Court rulings on juveniles or mental retardation.
“On the positive side, for years moratorium bills have been introduced by Senator Hank Sanders, and more recently by Rep. Merika Coleman. Last year there were two hearings by the House sub-committee on the bill and a recommendation was made for a study.
“We have hopes for 2011 even in a different political landscape. Arguments for a moratorium are not only have 42 city councils and county commissions signed on, along with the families of murder victims, law enforcement and many churches, but the fact that it costs double to put someone to death than to incarcerate for life. When will we realize that Alabama cannot afford the death penalty?”
Some of the public’s top concerns about the death penalty were that it is applied unevenly and unfairly; it subjects victims’ families to lengthy trials and years of appeals that interfere with the healing process; and it risks executing the innocent.
Spending millions of dollars on the death penalty, at a time when states are cutting back on services such as police forces, schools, and public health, and when life in prison would cost less, was also of concern to voters.
Moral and religious objections to the death penalty were strong among Latino and Catholic voters.
The nationwide poll was conducted in May 2010 with a margin of error of +/- 2.5 percent.
The Death Penalty Information Centre, founded in 1990, is a non-profit organisation serving the media and the public with analysis and information on issues concerning capital punishment.

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