Timothy Miller writes:
“Execution is clearly not a deterrent to violent crime.
“If we executed a thousand of people a year, or more, instead of about 40, and if criminals were executed within weeks or months of their nasty crimes, then execution might be a deterrent. I’m not advocating that, and it is never going to happen anyway.
“If we could save money by executing nasty criminals, to avoid the cost of keeping them locked up, that might be a good reason for capital punishment. I’m not advocating that, and that’s never going to happen either.
“What, then, is the purpose of execution? It’s impossible to avoid this conclusion: The purpose of capital punishment is revenge.
“When the victim’s friends and family say they need “closure,” closure is a code word for revenge. If you read between the lines, “We cannot rest until <victim’s name here> gets justice,” it means, “When the public, acting on our behalf, ‘gets even’ with the criminal, by executing him, we anticipate we will feel better.”
“The friends and families of victims always say they “need closure.” No one ever comes back to the friends and family of a victim, years later, to ask, “Did the execution give you ‘closure’?” No one really knows, but I suspect that the friends and families of victims don’t feel much better after an execution. Heck, they might feel worse. All that news coverage and drama might keep the pain and anger alive.
“The desire for revenge is not hard to understand. It might be maddening. It seems possible I might also crave revenge if a friend or relative had been murdered. That desire seems to be a feature of human nature, in most cases, though not all.
“Revenge is not a good reason for capital punishment. It’s actually a really bad reason. By executing murderous criminals, strictly for the sake of revenge, the state is setting a bad example for the rest of us.
“Many ugly violent acts, pointless fights and assaults, and some murders, are motivated by the desire for revenge. We don’t want our citizens thinking, “By god, I have a right to revenge. If capital punishment gives the public revenge for a violent crime, I’m entitled to revenge, too.”
“That kind of thinking is a recipe for out-of-control curbside justice. You think that isn’t a problem already? Most drive-by shootings and “gang-related” shootings are misguided attempts at curbside justice.”
Miller’s insight that “closure” is a euphemism for “revenge” is perceptive. While execution might be revenge for the family, however, it is justice for the state, which has a stake in punishing people for their crimes if, for no other reason, so that others do not. It’s the state telling victim families “We got this,” to channel their vengeful anger into a deliberate system. Except, in the case of the death penalty, the state doesn’t have this at all.