The state of Georgia has been executing individuals at unusually high rates and even outpaced Texas this past year. While Gov. Nathan Deal has recently been lauded as a criminal-justice reformer, the pace of executions has unfortunately hastened under his watch. Nine people were put to death in 2016 and five in 2015.
At first glance, this may seem to suggest a death penalty resurgence in Georgia, but that’s far from the case. Solely focusing on these executions paints an incomplete picture of Georgia’s capital-punishment system. The truth is Georgia’s death penalty is dwindling so quickly that in a few years, it may exist in name only.
While Georgia led the nation in executions last year, these represent the conclusion of death sentences often delivered decades ago, but much has changed since then, including a steep decline in death sentences. They’ve waned so much that if the current rates continue, Georgia may clear out its death row before another individual is sentenced to death. It’s been nearly three years since a jury has condemned a person to die in the Peach State. Our death penalty is dying, and many conservatives welcome its end.
Georgia’s death penalty usage has brought capital punishment’s many shortcomings to light, which has led to an increasing number of conservatives opposing the death penalty. Nationally, over 155 individuals have been wrongly convicted and sentenced to death, and this has happened six times in Georgia. This is prompting many pro-life conservatives, like myself, to ask, can we support such a system that risks innocent life? For me, the answer is an emphatic no.
Many are also rightly denouncing the death penalty as being fiscally irresponsible. Numerous studies have shown that it costs millions of dollars more than life without the chance of release, and it’s even led to tax increases right here in Georgia. In the 1990s, Lincoln County raised taxes multiple times to bankroll a capital trial. Eventually, the county commissioners tired of the rising costs and refused to fund the remainder of the proceedings. This didn’t sit well with the presiding judge who threw the commission in jail until the members awkwardly agreed to approve the appropriations.
Capital punishment is more than just a hazard to innocent life and an incredibly costly program. It is quite simply a public-policy failure. There’s no evidence suggesting that it protects society, and it often even harms those who deserve justice the most – murder victims’ families. Because of the uncertain, complex, and protracted legal process, many of them have insisted that it does more harm than good. It forces them to regularly relive the most painful moments of their lives in a legal process often without any clear end in sight, which can prevent the healing process.
Georgia’s death penalty has been a disastrous, dysfunctional experiment. Capital punishment is supposed to be reserved for the worst-of-the-worst, but that’s not how it operates in the Peach State. Since 2015, Georgia has executed a born-again Christian who counseled her fellow inmates, a veteran with PTSD, a man with a very low IQ, and someone who had been convicted nearly 37 years before. While they were involved in terrible crimes, these individuals don’t represent the most heinous offenders, and their executions served no penological purpose or societal benefit.
Georgia has quite clearly demonstrated that it shouldn’t be trusted with the death penalty. It also seems that the state can’t even be expected to purchase legal execution drugs. In 2011, the federal government seized the Peach State’s drug stash because it was suspected of illegally acquiring the chemicals – an act that would land any average citizen in prison.
Despite all of these problems, trends in Georgia show that capital punishment appears to be in an irreversible decline, which is a positive development for many conservatives. In fact, the Georgia Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty recently launched in order to educate Georgians on capital punishment’s failures as well as advocate for its repeal. This is just the latest sign that the death penalty will remain part of Georgia’s past, not its future.
(Marc Hyden of Cobb County is the national advocacy coordinator of Conservatives Concerned about the Death Penalty, a Project of EJUSA. He previously worked for the National Rifle Association in Florida.)