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Cases for death penalty even weaker now

By Tyler McCarthy
On April 8, 2012

In 2006, I was a freshman at Robert E. Fitch Senior High School in my hometown of Groton. Naturally, being the opinionated know-it-all that I am, I quickly became a member of school's debate team. The president of the club began the first meeting of the year going to the whiteboard and writing the words "Resolved: The death penalty should be abolished." This was the topic of the 10th annual Great Connecticut High School Debate. For the next two months I familiarized myself with the arguments for and against the death penalty so that I could help our team's representatives do well when we took this debate to the state's capitol in Hartford for the competition. Through all of my research and time spent writing speeches on this topic, slowly and thoroughly, I discovered one thing. I do not believe in capital punishment. Fast-forward six years to 2012 when the Connecticut state Senate votes to become the 17th state to repeal capital punishment by a vote of 20-16. It turns out that sanctimonious 15-year-old freshman was right.

Those who had to argue for the death penalty in the debate were quick to argue that it is fiscally responsible to have capital punishment due to the high cost of keeping a prisoner for life without parole. Unfortunately, it wasn't until this year that the Connecticut Office of Fiscal Analysis attached a study to the bill that calculated that the state stands to save $455,000 per inmate in the absence of capital punishment. Fifteen year-old me would look at this from a debating standpoint and realize that if the state can save money by not executing criminals of violent crimes, that's one less argument in favor of keeping it.

Good debate strategy would then dictate that those arguing in favor of capital punishment suggest the possibility of overcrowding in prisons. Unfortunately for them, the Connecticut Department of Corrections posted on their web site earlier this year that three of the 18 correctional facilities are closed due to a 10 year low in the offender population. So once again, those arguing in favor of capital punishment are left without a leg to stand on.

The last-ditch effort of any skilled debater then becomes to make your argument a moral one. The idea is that some offenses are simply so heinous, such as the 2007 Cheshire home invasion, that there is simply no place for the offenders in our society. To put it bluntly, they deserve to die. This is a bold strategy to take but I've seen it handled with the right amount of conviction and passion to make it a very formidable argument. The argument, however, is flawed. Ask yourself why they are called "correctional facilities" or "Department of Corrections"? Would it not be easier and more to the point to call them "prisons"? The answer is no. Our justice system is entirely based around the concept of rehabilitation. We believe that crimes are mistakes made by the offenders. Incarceration is simply their punishment, their time to think and learn how to go back to society. The reason we believe this is because rehabilitation exists and it is a concept that deserves to be entertained. By having a method of execution for criminals, it completely undermines the concept of rehabilitation. Will these people ever be able to re-enter society? No. However, who are we to say that these people will remain evil forever and should just be killed now to save time and space? If we, as a society, allow ourselves to turn our backs on the concept of rehabilitation, then the logic in our justice system becomes flawed. Another way of saying that is, because of the death penalty, the logic in our justice system is flawed.

Where does good debate strategy take someone who is in favor of the death penalty then? Money isn't an issue, space isn't an issue and morality is relative and flawed. Six years ago I would have killed for the data that has come out with this latest argument in the state. Despite the data, however, it would appear that the state of Connecticut has come to the same discovery that a 15-year-old kid, with a crush on Emma Watson, discovered six long years ago. We don't believe in capital punishment. 

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