March 22, 2019


Becoming A Conservative Concerned

By: Hannah Cox

For the past nine months, I’ve been working as the national manager for an organization called Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty (CCATDP), but the truth is, I wasn’t always concerned.

In fact, up until a few years ago I was the last person you wanted on your jury if you were facing capital punishment. As is true for most people, my prior support was based on the belief that our system was set up justly, that innocence was a rarity, and that we needed the sentence as a deterrent for crime and to provide closure for victims’ families.

In reality though, I had never been anywhere close to our criminal justice system or anyone affected by it at that time. What I found when I did begin to encounter the justice system totally changed my mind on the death penalty.

I found that one person has been fully exonerated for every ten executions in this country since the reinstatement of the penalty in the late 70’s. That’s not to mention the thousands of other wrongful convictions in the country. I also learned that the death penalty was the most expensive part of the justice system on a per offender basis, and that the majority of those costs were incurred at the trial level – meaning that shortening the appeals process would not make the system any cheaper.

In addition to these things, I also realized that the death penalty was not a deterrent to crime at all. Regions of the country that do not use it experience much lower rates of violent crime, and police chiefs rank it as the least effective tool in their arsenal. What that really means is that the death penalty is not only expensive, but it wastes resources that could go toward actually solving more crimes and producing safer communities. It also wastes resources that could provide victims’ families with actual services that could assist them in rebuilding their lives, something that many of these families have spoken out about.

Lastly, the death penalty is overrun with trauma, socioeconomic disparities, and racial bias. Try to find a rich person on death row; you won’t. What you will find is people who have typically been victimized themselves, usually for decades, and who never got the intervention they needed.

You’ll also find people who were overwhelmingly represented by public defenders, many of whom were later disbarred or disciplined. And you’ll find that the majority of people there had a white victim. In Louisiana you are 96% more likely to get the death penalty if your victim was white, and in California you are three times more likely to get it if your victim was white.

All of these factors compiled until I became convinced that the death penalty was just another broken, big government program that could not be fixed. It is ineffective, inaccurate, and marred with inequity. It does not use our resources wisely, value the sanctity of human life, or hold our government accountable. In all areas of conservatism, it misses the mark.

That is why so many on the right are turning against it, with eight states this year alone introducing bills sponsored by Republicans to repeal the death penalty. Since 2000, the number of conservative lawmakers sponsoring such efforts has grown tenfold. This movement is following public opinion and trends, where we’ve seen death sentences decrease by 60% during the same time period and executions down to only eight active states in 2018.

My new role has been exciting. I’ve found that many people have already become educated about the problems with the system and are ready to take action. Others I’ve found to be curious and willing to learn more. As a whole, our society is realizing that our justice system has been broken for some time, and both sides are becoming more and more willing to work across the aisle to fix it.

CCATDP will continue to lead that charge amongst conservatives, and we’d love to have your involvement in one of our local state chapters!