There are good reasons why so many conservatives, including those in Pennsylvania, are rethinking the death penalty. It is an extreme use of state power, deeply at odds with our limited government beliefs.
But that is just the first of many reasons why Pennsylvania lawmakers should take up Gov. Josh Shapiro on his call to take a hard look at the many problems with the death penalty and bring forth legislation to end it in the Keystone State.
Serious flaws are built into the system, which is why Pennsylvania has been among the states that have had a pause on executions. In fact, there have been no executions in the modern era of the death penalty except those of three men who all voluntarily gave up their appeals in order to be executed in the 1990s.
Government is so frequently inept it boggles the mind that anyone believes the death penalty can be administered properly. The system is so unreliable that 190 people have been released so far from death rows nationwide due to wrongful convictions, with eleven of those from Pennsylvania’s death row.
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is supposed to safeguard individuals’ rights to life, liberty, and property. Each is an essential right, but the right to life is paramount because it is impossible to exercise and enjoy the other two rights without being alive. Likewise, it is impossible to restore a life wrongfully taken. Pennsylvania conservatives should not tolerate a punishment that is irreversible and puts the sanctity of life at such grave risk.
There is also no proof the death penalty makes us safer. States with the death penalty have higher murder rates on average than states without it. In fact, a study by the National Academy of Sciences found there is no evidence that the death penalty is a deterrent. The high cost of the death penalty (shown to be much more expensive than its alternatives) could go toward proven solutions that actually keep our communities safer and prevent violence before it occurs.
The death penalty not only fails to treat trauma and prevent violence, but it also creates more of it. Rather than costly political theater that rips families apart and creates generational cycles of harm, we can look to effective ways of treating trauma and preventing violence in the first place.
These are just some of the reasons why a growing number of Republican state lawmakers support ending the death penalty.
In 2021-2022, 11 states had Republican-sponsored bills to end the death penalty. This year, with bills just now getting filed, Republicans are already helping lead campaigns to repeal it in Kentucky, Kansas, and Missouri. Ohio also has bipartisan momentum for repeal building with Republicans in a leading role.
Republican state lawmakers played a role in all of the most recent states to end the death penalty in Virginia in 2021, Colorado in 2020, and New Hampshire in 2019, when 40 percent of the Republican Senate caucus voted to override their GOP governor’s veto, ultimately ending the state’s death penalty.
The trend is beyond dispute. An increasing number of conservative Republican state lawmakers nationwide that believe in limited government, and fiscal responsibility, and who value life, are re-thinking capital punishment.
Trusting government with the power to execute its citizens will always make possible the potential for abuse and error. The time has come for Pennsylvania to end its death penalty and to do it based on sound conservative values.