Connecticut lawmakers voted to abolish capital punishment Thursday, becoming the 17th state in the nation (plus the District of Columbia) to eliminate the death penalty for future prosecutions.
Among several factors influencing personal opinion about death row– age, life experiences and educational attainment– the passing of the bill was met with positivity and concerns from college students.
Trends suggest that young people ages 18 to 29 are more likely than middle-aged and older adults to oppose the death penalty, according to Executive Director Richard Dieter of the non-profit Death Penalty Information Center.
Overall confidence in the death penalty has steadily decreased since reaching its high point in the mid-1990s.
Approximately 80 percent of survey responders approved of capital punishment for individuals convicted of murder in 1994, compared with just 61 percent in 2011, according to Gallup.
University of California, San Diego, communications senior Thieny Nguyen said the issues are complex and need to be weighed on case-by-case basis. However, the morality and ethics of killing convicted murderers is questionable and in line with the eye-for-an-eye principle.
Nguyen used the controversial Florida case involving George Zimmerman and 17-year-old Trayvon Martin as an example: “Since (Zimmerman) murdered Trayvon, does that mean we should execute him? It doesn’t solve underlying societal issues. It doesn’t fix the crime.”
Rather than keeping convicted criminals on death row, Nguyen said, the humane approach would be to emphasize re-education and rehabilitation programs, especially addressing potential psychological illnesses.
For some students, the opposition to capital punishment comes down to money.
Long-term incarceration for death row inmates demands excessive state funding that could be better served in areas like education or crime prevention in at-risk communities, said Feli Hernandez, a criminal justice senior at California State University, Long Beach.
According to Dieter, it can cost taxpayers $1 million to incarcerate an individual for life and $3 million per death row inmate for incarceration, trials and the execution, though it should be noted that while many people are on death row, fewer are executed than one might expect.
A report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics published in December found that 36 states and the Federal Bureau of Prisons held 3,158 inmates under sentences of death at the end of 2010.
Four states– California, Florida, Texas, and Pennsylvania– held more than half of all inmates on death row.
During 2010, 46 were executed, 20 died by means other than execution and 53 were removed as a result of sentences or convictions overturned or commutations of sentences.
The overturned convictions have caused many to take a more cautious approach to the death penalty, Deiter said.
For Nina Garofalo, a junior english major at Loyola Marymount College, the death penalty move by Connecticut was a step in the right direction.
“I believe in the value of human life—innocent or guilty, young or old. Even if someone is considered an outcast by society, they always have a chance at redemption,” Garofalo said.
But not all students oppose capital punishment.
Arturo Gonzalez, a managerial sciences junior at the University of California, San Diego, said the system is good for society but executions should be carried out more swiftly.
“It gives people fear. It’s a reminder to people that there are consequences for their actions,” Gonzalez said.
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