Acceptance is key.
With the House seeming to be all for the reinstatement of the death penalty, and the Senate appearing to be likely to follow suit, it looks like the State will soon be shuffling people off this mortal coil again. And with the President expressing his preference for multiple executions, it behooves everyone to ask: what’s the best way to carry out the death penalty?
What's the best way to commit state-sanctioned murd- i mean, to carry out the death penalty?
— James Jimenez (@jabjimenez) December 19, 2016
Interestingly, when I ran this Twitter poll, the first responder voted for death by musketry. Throughout the first few minutes of the poll, the guns enjoyed a comfortable lead over it’s competition. But then I sort of nodded off a bit and when I woke up, lo and behold! Lethal injection had overtaken musketry!
But since I’m not 11 years old and I understand how polling works, I let it go.
The Mechanics of Death
No, I’m not talking about incompetent people pretending to know what to do with your car engine. I’m talking about how a lethal injection is currently carried out. I used to think they’d just stick you with an empty syringe and let the air bubble kill you, y’know? like they d
As it turns out, lethal injection actually involves three drugs, all administered one after the other via an IV. This means that the convict is going to have an intravenous line through which the fatal cocktail is going to be injected (probably through a Y-port) in the proper order. And yes, the order of injection is critical.
After the convict is strapped to the table, with his arms spread out like he’s laid out on a cross, the first drug o be injected is a barbiturate, either sodium thiopental or pentobarbital. From the IV, this medication directly affects the convict’s brain and puts him to sleep. Incidentally, this drug is what makes lethal injection perhaps the most humane way of carrying out the sentence. Properly done, this method ensures that the convict will essentially die in his sleep, as opposed to being in extreme pain from having a jillion volts pumped into his body, or having to wait to die as in death by musketry or in a gas chamber.
The second drug is called pancuronium bromide. This induces muscle paralysis all over the body and, most crucially, of the diaphragm. The diaphragm is a sheet of muscle separating the chest cavity where the lungs are, from the abdominal cavity where the guts are. It is also the muscle most responsible for breathing. When the diaphragm is paralyzed, respiratory arrest quickly follows. depriving the body of vital air.
The pancuronium is followed by an overdoes of potassium chloride which stops the heart. This effectively clinches the deal as the convicts blood can no longer be pumped to course around the body.
So that’s the how. The next question is, how much?
The Cost of Death
A 2012 article in the Huffington Post reports the skyrocketing cost of lethal injection as a result of both the increased cost of execution drugs (pentobarbital is more expensive than sodium thiopental, which was discontinued) and opposition to the death penalty in some of the countries where the drugs are manufactured. The Danish manufacturer of pentobarbital for example, has tightened it’s supply. And the sodium thiopental, the drug replaced by pentobarbital, was pulled because the Italian supplier couldn’t give the Italian government proof that the drug wasn’t being used for executions. As a consequence of this crunch, the article reported that an execution that cost Texas just US$83 had since jumped to almost US$1,300.
At the current exchange rate, US$1,300 translates to PHP64,948.00. If we were to smoke 6 convicts on a daily basis, we might be spending in excess of PHP389,688.00 per day. 365 days in a year, minus 106 days because let’s assume we’re not killing people on weekends, and further deducting an arbitrary 15 days to account for unforeseen reasons, this means that we stand to spend PHP95,083,872 per year (note, of course, that this is just a very rough estimate, and that the base figure – US$1,300 – was from 2012. But since prices only ever go up…).
For comparison, earlier this year, a Philippine Senator reported that the cost of guarding and feeding a prisoner runs up to an annual cost of PHP45,670.oo. It sure looks like killing a convict costs more than keeping him alive for a year, doesn’t it? But then again, the 45k is a cost that will be repeated for the remainder of the convict’s life, so assuming an average lifespan of up to 75 years, an average aged (36) convict could spend as long as 39 years in incarceration. That’s an expense of up to around 1.7 million pesos. The calculations are rough approximations, but I think I’m still in the ballpark.
In a 2011 article in Forbes, the argument is made that while execution expenses may be low, the costs associated with a death penalty trial outstrip those in which the prosecutors aren’t seeking capital punishment. I wonder if this holds true in the Philippines as well. I’m assuming our legislators had access to this information, of course, although I can’t find any study even remotely resembling this one by the Urban Institute.
In brief, that study found , for murder cases between 1977-1999, “that an average capital-eligible case in which prosecutors did not seek the death penalty will cost approximately $1.1 million over the lifetime of the case. A capital-eligible case in which prosecutors unsuccessfully sought the death penalty will cost $1.8 million and a capital-eligible case resulting in a death sentence will cost approximately $3 million.”
Their conclusion? “In total, we forecast that the lifetime costs to Maryland taxpayers of these capitally-prosecuted cases will be $186 million.”
Which brings me to the why: Why kill them?
The most commonly cited justification for the imposition of the death penalty is deterrence. Knowing that they could be put to death, so the theory goes, will put the fear of God in the criminals and scare them onto the straight and narrow. That criminals could also be scared into taking greater care that they aren’t caught apparently never occurred to the proponents of this reasoning. In any case, is there any merit to this argument? Studies say, not so much.
A study linked to by the Death Penalty Information Center found that 88% of American criminologists believed that the death penalty was not an effective deterrent.
But what if we smoked them 6 times a day? Well, 91.6% said that increasing the frequency of executions wouldn’t make them more effective as a deterrent.
I couldn’t find a local study (I might not have looked hard enough, tho) to confirm these findings or, more importantly, to dispute them, but there are studies that disagree.
For instance, in 2007, the Washington Post published an article that describes a series of academic studies carried out in the early 2000s, which came down strongly on the side of death penalty as an effective deterrent. According to the report, these studies – a dozen of them since 2001 – examined executions and homicide rates, taking into account such other factors as unemployment data and per capita income, the probabilities of arrest and conviction, etc. This methodology is relevant because the National Research Council pointed out that pro-death studies “(are) ‘fundamentally flawed’ because they do not consider the effects of non-capital punishments and used ‘incomplete or implausible models.'”
I have to confess, the more you dig into this topic, the more you find that there are no easy answers. And since we seem to be on the crux of re-imposing the death penalty, I can only hope that our legislators have actually dived deep into all these conflicting studies.
In the end, however, I suspect, it won’t be scientific studies or hard data that will win the day for the pro-death penalty legislators. Take a look at the country that reportedly thinks so much of the death penalty, they want to expand its scope: Indonesia.
According to this CNN report, “the Indonesian government insists the country faces a drug emergency that requires tough measures.” And boy, they are tough. In 2015, 14 convicted drug offenders were shot. Six, in January and eight in April. Compare that to the total of 21 convicts executed under their previous President.
And they don’t just shoot their own either. Our compatriot, Mary Jane Veloso, is one of the many foreign nationals in danger of losing their lives to Indonesia’s war on drugs. So, the question is: is it working?
I dunno. According to this article appearing on The Conversation, the Indonesians have been using faulty statistics to justify the war on drugs, including the use of the death penalty.Take the number of drug deaths as an example.
According to officials, there is a death toll of 40 to 50 young people every day, based on a study conducted back in 2008. The article explains:
“To determine the rate of drug deaths in the general population, the researchers surveyed 2,143 people selected from population groups such as students, workers and general households. They asked how many of their friends use drugs, and among these, how many of their friends died “because of drugs” in the last year before the survey.
“The study authors then applied the median number of friends who died (three) to their 2008 estimate of “drug addicts”, arriving at a figure of 14,894. Divided by 365 days, this amounts to 41 “people dying because of drug use every day”.
With that sort of dodgy methodology, it’s almost impossible to figure out whether or not the drug problem is as big as it is feared, and to determine a benchmark against which the efficacy of the death penalty deterrent can be gauged.
Neither is it particularly inspiring when their one-year old drug war is actually looking to our own less-than-a-year-old foray into the same territory for guidance, as the Atlantic reports.
Which leaves us with only one possible answer – at this time, anyway – to our question, why kill? Because it feels like it will work.
Acceptance is key
Acceptance is key, I said. Is this an outcome we can accept?
Not me, and not just yet. There is simply too little grounding for the re-imposition of the death penalty, and the move faces too much well-grounded opposition. Per execution costs and the effectiveness of the deterrent are just two of the flashpoints of the debate. We haven’t even touched on the “softer aspects” yet and already there is enough reason to doubt this course of action.
And yet, we are rushing to the lip of that abyss with seemingly reckless abandon. It’s time to take a deep breath and think about this, argue about this, some more.
Breathe, dear Congress. Or six people a day might soon be breathing their last.