Every now and then I read something in our publication which makes me shake my head.
It’s usually not at the local level. The sort of things which make me shake my head seem to occur at the state or federal level, and my neck muscles have grown tired in recent months.
I’ve already mentioned some things which cause this lateral back and forth motion of my head in past columns, but this week I’ve decided to let our readers see me lean right for a change.
North Carolina executed its last inmate in 2006. That piece of information is tied to the fact the state medical board ruled doctors participating in executions were violating the medical code of ethics: first, do no harm.
There is a “de facto moratorium” on executions, noted a law professor in a story about a local man against whom the state will seek the death penalty.
Perhaps, in 2007 there was. However, since then a case in the state supreme court forced the medical board to quit taking disciplinary action against doctors who took part in an execution.
Then, in 2015, the governor signed a bill which removes the requirement to have a medical doctor at an execution. I’ve been critical of Puppet Pat, General Assembly leadership and the voting bots in the past, but on this one, they got it right.
It was called the Restoring Proper Justice Act, and it allows a medical professional other than a doctor to oversee a lethal injection.
So why aren’t we killing people?
There are 150 eligible candidates in North Carolina right now. According to the Vera Institute of Justice, in 2012 it cost an average of nearly $32,000 to house a general population inmate. Other sources indicate the costs associated with housing a death row inmate can be three times that much or more.
The average Surry County resident makes less than $31,000 per year, according to statistics from the Surry County Economic Development Partnership’s website. While he or she tries to feed a family, that individual is paying for the food, healthcare and the roof over a murderer who was sentenced to die for his crime.
That doesn’t seem just. It doesn’t seem right, and it’s really not OK.
One can’t even argue the money dumped into a death row inmate is an investment. That individual will never be rehabilitated, rejoin society and become productive. He or she will die in prison. It would seem the only way to mitigate the cost is to ensure he or she dies sooner rather than later.
Here are these 150 people (and maybe another one added locally soon) who forfeited their right to live under our laws. Twelve people heard their cases and, often times, their pleas for leniency, and came out of a room agreeing these 150 folks deserved to die for what they had done.
So why aren’t we killing them?
I’m a fan of erring on the side of life, as my strong pro-life position would indicate. I also believe all folks have a certain set of rights assured by our constitution. However, these are people who did terrible things, were afforded council (likely on our dime), were convicted and sentenced by 12 citizens.
The fact is when you are convicted of a crime you forfeit some of your rights. If that crime is heinous enough, you might even forfeit your right to live.
Many argue the monetary cost of the death penalty is just too high. Rather than not use the death penalty, why not fix the system? Expediting the trials and appeals process might help. Then we aren’t housing death row inmates in their special quarters for as long. Getting this dead man on the table to actually be rendered dead ought to be a priority for any prosecutor.
Though the actual execution isn’t the truly costly part of all this, while we are considering nickels and dimes, we can put some thought into this as well. I’m sure those drugs aren’t cheap, and hiring all the folks to carry out an execution with all the fanfare seems ridiculous. Bullets cost pennies, and you can reuse a rope.
Let’s get started on freeing up 150 beds in our state’s prison system.
Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.