Alon Tsin

Death penalty

24 posts in this topic

Hi all!

I wanted to raise the subject of Death Penalty.

I live in Israel where death penalties are not practiced (except in the case of Adolph Eichmann, the Nazi war criminal). However, for a while now I have been considering the idea of death penalty to proven terrorists or murderers , whether in Israel or the USA .

However , I would like to ask the members of the Forum:

1. What was Miss Rand's position about the death penalty?

2. What are your opinions about the subject?

I have heard many arguments for a death penalty and against it, but I would like to know your opinions...

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I have heard many arguments for a death penalty and against it, but I would like to know your opinions...

I don't have a General Theory of Capital Punishment, but here are my various views:

First, to set the stage, this topic is not a philosophical topic, but one dealing with the particulars of administration of justice.

Second, outside of civilized conditions, for example, in a war, I fully support the death penalty for aggressive enemies of objective values.

Third, in a civilized society -- and especially in semi-civilized societies such as Israel or the U. S. -- the death penalty is appropriate only if (1) the appropriate laws themselves are objectively derived, and (2) the process of judgment of guilt is objective.

Fourth, the only argument I know of against the death penalty is that it is irrevocable. If the accused turns out to be innocent, there is no restoration possible. So, any carrying out of the penalty must follow an exhaustive procedure of objective, adversarial judgment.

Fifth, I am now a very reluctant supporter of the death penalty for certain crimes under certain conditions -- in the U. S. -- but I would be willing to switch if someone offered a meaningfully severe alternative. Better to let a 100 killers rot for the rest of their lives chained to trees in the forest, than to kill an innocent man.

You asked for opinions. Now you have mine. If they are incorrect, I welcome correction.

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1. What was Miss Rand's position about the death penalty?

This was answered in the "Intellectual Ammunition Department" of the January 1963 issue of Miss Rand's The Objectivist Newsletter. In essence, there are two issues, the moral and the legal.

The moral question is: Does the man who commits willful murder in the absence of extenuating circumstances, deserve to have his own life forfeited? Here, the answer is unequivocally: Yes.

[...]

However, the legal question: Should a legal system employ capital punishment? -- is of a different order. There are grounds for debate -- though not out of sympathy or pity for murderers.

The discussion focuses on the difficulty of removing the possibility of error, since if an error occurred and an innocent man were put to death, no restitution could return that innocent life. You can read the details of the discussion in the issue referenced.

2. What are your opinions about the subject?

I would rather have truly guilty murderers incarcerated for life than to mistakenly kill an innocent man. If a philosophy of law could establish a proper criteria to eliminate such a possibility, then the death penalty would be fine.

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Hi all!

I wanted to raise the subject of Death Penalty.

I live in Israel where death penalties are not practiced (except in the case of Adolph Eichmann, the Nazi war criminal). However, for a while now I have been considering the idea of death penalty to proven terrorists or murderers , whether in Israel or the USA .

However , I would like to ask the members of the Forum:

1. What was Miss Rand's position about the death penalty?

2. What are your opinions about the subject?

I have heard many arguments for a death penalty and against it, but I would like to know your opinions...

A murderer forfeits the right to his life as soon as he intentionally takes away somebody else's. An Objective law can morally take away his life.

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Fourth, the only argument I know of against the death penalty is that it is irrevocable. If the accused turns out to be innocent, there is no restoration possible. So, any carrying out of the penalty must follow an exhaustive procedure of objective, adversarial judgment.

Fifth, I am now a very reluctant supporter of the death penalty for certain crimes under certain conditions -- in the U. S. -- but I would be willing to switch if someone offered a meaningfully severe alternative. Better to let a 100 killers rot for the rest of their lives chained to trees in the forest, than to kill an innocent man.

You asked for opinions. Now you have mine. If they are incorrect, I welcome correction.

I find myself a reluctant opponent of the death penalty. I would love murderers to be executed, but don't have the stomach to allow innocents to be executed in the process.

There are apparently dozens of people on death row who have been exonerated by DNA tesing. Something like 1 in 5 of the people tested in Texas have been found not guilty. These people had all been sentanced to death unanimously by a jury of 12.

I would have to be convinced that a wrongful execution would be an incredible anomoly rather then a common occurrence before I considered it justifiable.

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In response to cases in which a man has been found innocent after spending years---sometimes twenty or thirty---in prison, I have felt a sense of horror, while at the same time glad that the man survived. So, as been said in the above posts, I would rather have life-long imprisonment sentences than mistakenly kill the wrong man. However, I do think that life-long sentences for murder should be severe. I don't want to hear about "lifers" watching TV, making toys for kids, and improving their jump shots. It should be very severe, and the severe conditions should be well-publicized.

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There are apparently dozens of people on death row who have been exonerated by DNA tesing. Something like 1 in 5 of the people tested in Texas have been found not guilty.

I am not interested in debating the issue, because of my own reluctant position. I would like to know what the evidence is for saying -- as you seem to be saying -- that 20 percent of death row inmates in Texas have been falsely convicted. Can you cite a study that has withstood public scrutiny? It wouldn't surprise me that such is the case, but I just have never seen substantiation.

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I would like to know what the evidence is for saying -- as you seem to be saying -- that 20 percent of death row inmates in Texas have been falsely convicted.

Unfortunately I do not remember the article where I read it originally but the article I found and listed below discusses it. As to whether or not it it has withstood public scrutiny, I really can't say.

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/20...v_dnadeath.html

"Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) spokesperson Tela Mange notes that her agency's crime lab has handled 49 such inmate requests (not all of them death-penalty cases) for DNA retesting. A significant percentage of the inmates have been exonerated.

"Eight tests were inconclusive, and there were nine individuals that were excluded as donors of the biological evidence left at the scene," Mange said from her Austin office. "

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I would like to know what the evidence is for saying -- as you seem to be saying -- that 20 percent of death row inmates in Texas have been falsely convicted. Can you cite a study that has withstood public scrutiny? It wouldn't surprise me that such is the case, but I just have never seen substantiation.

I suspect that the 20% figure is the one from a study I read just a few years ago where approximately 20% of those sentenced to death were commuted to life in prison. The actual figures for those released from a death sentence for innocence is more on the order of 10%, at least as shown by statistics kept since the early 1970s. See the Death Penalty Information Center for a lot of information and statistics. (Note the "Death Penalty Fact Sheet" near the top of the left column.)

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I'm with most others here. As much as I would like to see some people killed, I'm happy to see them confined for life if it guarantees than no innocent man will be executed.

I think that jails for hardcore criminals should all be supermax.

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As much as I would like to see some people killed, I'm happy to see them confined for life if it guarantees than no innocent man will be executed.

Now I agree, given the figures presented here. Almost as disturbing is the possibility that an even higher rate of injustice is happening among those convicted for non-capital cases, which are cases that would, I expect, draw less careful attention from police, prosecuters, and harried public defenders. I wonder how many lives have been ruined by incompetent or malicious prosecutors and illogical or irrational jurors.

I no longer support the death penalty in civilized society.

I think that jails for hardcore criminals should all be supermax.

My understanding of "supermax" is that it refers primarily to extra efforts designed to prevent a prisoner from escaping or attacking others: "supermax" is short for above-maximum security. Does "supermax" necessarily lead to harsher conditions for the prisoner?

My idea of a just sentence for criminals is to sentence them to productivity. By that, I mean incarcerate them wherever possible in such a way that they pay for their own maintenance. If they are rebellious or lazy or evasive, then they suffer for it directly by running out of food, for example. That might mean howing and weeding many rows of vegetables every day.

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That might mean howing and weeding many rows of vegetables every day.

Growing up in Houston, I often heard (from my father, an attorney, and from others) about convicted criminals going to the "pea farm." Prisoners spent many hours hoeing (not "howing") up and down rows of plants in the Texas heat and humidity. I saw them at times, in passing Huntsville, Texas, if I recall the name correctly. None were fat, as I have heard many prisoners are today when they serve long sentences.

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My idea of a just sentence for criminals is to sentence them to productivity. By that, I mean incarcerate them wherever possible in such a way that they pay for their own maintenance. If they are rebellious or lazy or evasive, then they suffer for it directly by running out of food, for example.

And make them generate their own electricity if they want to see in the dark. They would have to turn an exposed crank linked to a hidden generator, and the power they generate would be dependent on the effort they exert.

Actually, the ideal situation for murderers would be to confine them all to an isolated location, with the only access to be a helicopter drop from the air. The only cost of incarceration would be to control the local airspace, and the murderers would have to fend for themselves if they wanted to survive. That would be so much better than society paying for these creatures to read law books for appeals, and lift weights.

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disturbing is the possibility that an even higher rate of injustice is happening among those convicted for non-capital cases

Unfortunately, I think we already know that we wouldn't approve of many many sentences, not the least of which are the antitrust "crimes."

The fact sheet was interesting, thank you Stephen. http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/FactSheet.pdf

I'm not totally sure I can accept all of its implications. For example, they imply that blacks are unjustly more frequently given the death penalty and that nobody of importance thinks the death penalty is a deterrent. In the first, it turns out that crimes committed in good neighborhoods are prosecuted more heavily, possibly due to fewer time burdens, more public outcry, etc. That itself is obviously a problem, but it's not necessarily a racial issue. On the second, since most people are liberal on the death penalty on philosophical grounds, I don't see their lack of expectation of deterrent as being new information.

What was new to me and interesting was the cites that report how much more it costs to prosecute such cases. Prison is so expensive, I had no idea a life sentence could be cheaper than a death sentence because [i guess] there are fewer appeals and fewer years spent in [expensive] death row.

My main concern on this issue is public safety. Obviously, it is crucial to avoid mistakenly convicting the wrong person. Yet in some of the heinous crimes I've read about, the incredible amount of proof makes me feel that I don't want such a person ever around again. I want zero chance they can escape - or even harm other prisoners.

Maybe at some point I'll try to read that site some more, because I have a lot of questions.

[]What does "exonerated" vs "freed" mean? Does "exonerated" really mean that the evidence was in error [ie new DNA evidence refutes prior circumstantial]? Why were we giving death sentences for circumstantial evidence? [if my term is correct] I am suspcious that the high number of exonerations reflects changing political philosophy.

[]We are lucky in that we have many states and a big country. On these issues, why not ship the accused across the country and try him there? Wouldn't that fix the problem of local outlaw-legal systems?

[]What are the rates of recividism and escape on those who were given life imprisonment? How many people were killed because of early parole to such? One number I have read was 30% of offenders repeat their crimes, or worse [usually worse], after rehab.

[]Under what category are pardons?

[]The fact sheet implies that having a death penalty increases murder rates. How are gun control laws related along with that axis? How is population wealth related?

[]If a sentence is changed to mentally incompetent, what would that fall under?

[]Now that we have DNA testing, would that have fixed all the mistakes?

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the ideal situation for murderers would be to confine them all to an isolated location, with the only access to be a helicopter drop

Lol, so maybe Australia all over again? The moon?

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I agree with those who oppose the death penalty on the grounds of its irreversibility in the face of error, and with those who support the notion of life in prison without possibility of parole and the minimum necessary prisoner maintenance (e.g. food and little else).

My idea of a just sentence for criminals is to sentence them to productivity.
I've always wondered why restitution is not required by law. Granted, in murder cases full restitution is impossible, but some form of servitude might do, where the offender is required to give up everything he produces (less the cost of his own maintenance) to the victim (or the victim's family or other appropriate recipient).
Actually, the ideal situation for murderers would be to confine them all to an isolated location, with the only access to be a helicopter drop
This is something else I've often wondered about. However, depending on the location, its boundaries would still have to be guarded, lest the prisoners use local resources to construct some sort of means of escape (for example a boat, if the location is an island). The larger the location, the more difficult and expensive the problem of securing its borders. Given that, it would make sense to have the location be no larger than necessary for reasonably keeping prisoners inside. Like, for example, a prison. ;)
with the only access to be a helicopter drop from the air.
As opposed to a helicopter drop from underground? :D (Sorry, couldn't resist...)

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And make them generate their own electricity if they want to see in the dark. They would have to turn an exposed crank linked to a hidden generator, and the power they generate would be dependent on the effort they exert.

Actually, the ideal situation for murderers would be to confine them all to an isolated location, with the only access to be a helicopter drop from the air. The only cost of incarceration would be to control the local airspace, and the murderers would have to fend for themselves if they wanted to survive. That would be so much better than society paying for these creatures to read law books for appeals, and lift weights.

There are some islands near the North Magnetic Pole in Canada. I have for decades imagined this as the place you suggest.

There are cases of murder that show guilt beyond all doubt (as opposed to circumstantial evidence). Cases such as apprehension on the spot, or confessions leading to hidden graves. Cases where the evidence is not in dispute. In such cases, elimination is appropriate.

As for deterrence value---no executed murderer has ever re-offended, whereas jailed ones have. It is distasteful to kill a human, but a murderer can hardly complain on those grounds. He finds the whole thing acceptable, while we hold our nose to deal with him on his terms.

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My understanding of "supermax" is that it refers primarily to extra efforts designed to prevent a prisoner from escaping or attacking others: "supermax" is short for above-maximum security. Does "supermax" necessarily lead to harsher conditions for the prisoner?

My father recently retired as a Washington State corrections officer, and a number of years ago he gave me a tour of the prison where he worked. Part of the facility was what they called the Intensive Management Unit, or IMU. The IMU is the Washington State version of supermax.

There are three IMU levels of security. I forget details about the first two, but they did involve things like a small law library that inmates could access for a limited time and TV sets in the cell. Bear in mind, though, that many inmates were in the IMU not because they were violent but because they were informants who had a price on their heads, and being in IMU was the only way to guarantee their safety. In fact, my father told me, very often such informants would deliberately start fights specifically to get sent to the IMU.

But in the most secure, the true supermax, level where the very worst offenders were housed there were no TV sets in the cells. Only a bed with a pillow that was permanently fixed to the bed and a toilet. There were no bars, but a solid steel door with an eight inch square plastic window which was the only way to see into or out of the cell. There were no shelves or any other place to hide anything like a weapon. The bed was built as a solid box so that nothing could be put under it.

These inmates absolutely never came into contact with other inmates. They ate all of their meals in their cells, and they only left their cell for one hour a day to go to the exercise yard. And perish any thoughts of weight sets -- these were individual exercise yards about the size of a racquetball court with absolutely nothing in them. They had no roof, allowing fresh air in. But in case some inmate could figure out how to climb the twenty foot smooth walls, they would still be greeted by a chain link fence that served as a roof.

All inmate activities outside of the the cells were closely monitored by corrections officers. This included the exercise sessions as well as showers. (I don't remember how often these occurred.) All prisoner movement was timed such that no two ever crossed eachother's path.

Psychologically, a cannot think of harsher conditions than this. And I wonder if the prospect of an innocent person being subjected to years of even decades of such treatment is better or worse than them being executed. Speaking for myself only, I'd be begging for my own death within the first week in a supermax prison.

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First of all, thanks you all for your views!

I understand you position in relation to criminals, and I agree with it fully. It would be horrible to kill an innocent person for a crime he did not commit. I also think that instead of (or maybe together with) producing T.V shows about the "good life" in prisons (like OZ), more documentaries should be aired about supermax prisons (like Go 4 TLI described) in order to deter potential murderers from their actions. I know that if I wanted to murder someone, the prospect of spending 20-30 years in a place like Go 4 TLI described would have surely deterred me from commiting murder. While obviously some murderers will not be in a mental and moral state to care, it might deter some others from taking human lives.

Another aspect is what is the standard about terrorists caught in Gaza or in Iraq? I think that a terrorist caught with an explosive or with a (proven) intention to commit a terrorist act should be put to death. as Burgess mentioned , in times of war a death penalty is acceptable against you enemies. The problem is that the US and Israel are "humane" and will not do it. Oh, and AMNESTY will probably not permit it...

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...

Another aspect is what is the standard about terrorists caught in Gaza or in Iraq? I think that a terrorist caught with an explosive or with a (proven) intention to commit a terrorist act should be put to death. as Burgess mentioned , in times of war a death penalty is acceptable against you enemies. The problem is that the US and Israel are "humane" and will not do it. Oh, and AMNESTY will probably not permit it...

My understanding of "the rules of war" is that if an enemy combatant is caught in a war zone out of uniform, he may be summarily executed as a spy. I think that is still appropriate in a war.

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....

But in the most secure, the true supermax, level where the very worst offenders were housed there were no TV sets in the cells. Only a bed with a pillow that was permanently fixed to the bed and a toilet. There were no bars, but a solid steel door with an eight inch square plastic window which was the only way to see into or out of the cell. There were no shelves or any other place to hide anything like a weapon. The bed was built as a solid box so that nothing could be put under it.

....

This I think would be appropriate for murderers. And there should, for the crime of murder, never be any possibility of parole or early release (unless of course one is later found to have been innocent). The only way a murderer should ever leave prison is in a pine box.

Even for lesser crimes, I do not think there should ever be "time off for good behavior." Rather, there should be "time added for bad behavior."

I also like the idea of forcing prisoners to work in order to produce their own sustenance, if it could be done while ensuring public safety - because a problem I see with having prisoners work is that they'll then have access to things that could be used to make weapons or to possibly escape. (I don't want to read about escaped ax-murderers running around whacking people in the head with hoes. ;) )

Another idea I've thought would be appropriate is to put a prison in a very cold climate. If a prisoner misbehaves, just turn the heat off. He'll get the message soon enough.

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I also like the idea of forcing prisoners to work in order to produce their own sustenance, if it could be done while ensuring public safety - because a problem I see with having prisoners work is that they'll then have access to things that could be used to make weapons or to possibly escape. (I don't want to read about escaped ax-murderers running around whacking people in the head with hoes. ;) )

The Washington Corrections Center includes a machine shop where inmates manufacture those plastic IMU windows I mentioned in my last post. I don't worry about that as long as those inmates are "medium security" as their website says. I don't know how Washington defines "medium security", but I'd like to think that means convicted thieves and such. If those prisoners know with full certainty that smuggling items out of the machine shop will land them in supermax for an extended period of time, then one hopes they get the message.

As for escape, no inmate has ever escaped from WCC. The watch towers have clear and intersecting fields of fire over the hundreds of feet between the cell blocks and the dual fence. All too many of the prison's employees live right next door for anybody to park a getaway car nearby without being noticed. And even if one made it over the wire, they'd be in a bright orange jumpsuit in rural upstate Washington. There, if the bears or cougars didn't get 'em, the trigger happy natives would. Trust me, the mentality in Washington State west of Puget Sound is radically different than it is east of it.

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....Trust me, the mentality in Washington State west of Puget Sound is radically different than it is east of it.

;)

That's particularly obvious when an election is coming up. Drive around in Seattle, and it's difficult to find a yard sign for a Republican candidate. But drive East across the state, and in most places, all one sees is signs for the Republicans. Crossing the Cascade Mountains, the climate and vegetation changes, and also the political displays. (Though not all of Western WA is liberal.)

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