The death penalty in Connecticut costs us all dearly

Last week the Connecticut legislature put an end to an anti-death penalty bill which would have made Connecticut the fifth state in four years to abolish capital punishment in the U.S.

The bill was suddenly put to rest by a slim margin of state Senators who claimed that keeping the death penalty would ensure those who committed horrible crimes against a family in Cheshire four years ago would face execution.

What they did not tell us, though, is that it will be years and years of continued waiting for these or any executions to occur, or if any executions will actually ever occur at all.

Funny that there are some who are glad that killing the bill has happened, but I don’t expect to hear many people applauding when they learn about what is to occur as a result of this decision.

For months now, we have written, perhaps too academically, about why we need to abolish the death penalty in Connecticut.

Many have supported this perspective locally, including editorial board members of The News-Times who courageously stood up and made their opinions known in no uncertain terms.

Even the New York Times recently called for the end of the death penalty in Connecticut.

Those of us who have spoken out have attempted to be philosophical, methodical, logical and mindful of the many repercussions that having a death penalty actually causes.

We have spoken about the many victims who suffer as a result of being involved in this process, from scores of co-victims who have had time to reflect on the damage this process has caused them, to jurors shaking and trembling as they review gruesome pictures and are severely traumatized, as well as correctional staff who are forced to take part in a process which scars them forever.

Apparently, none of these spoken truths have reached the minds or hearts of some legislators who, we think, should represent all victims of this horrible process.

They have instead decided to proclaim “justice” to be served for one family who has suffered a horrible, tragic loss, and for which they claim that the death penalty simply must be imposed.

One case, it appears, has dramatically altered their thinking, and is being propped up as the reason why Connecticut should not join the national (and world) trend to abolish capital punishment.

In the midst of a monumental budget crisis facing this state, little has been written which addresses the economic realities of keeping the death penalty in our state and, sadly, its devastating results.

What are those results? Money that has been held back from funding effective law enforcement activities and programs, and inadequate services for surviving victims of violent crimes, and re-allocation of funds to provide much needed emotional and financial support services for them.

The state of Illinois addressed these very issues by abolishing their death penalty a few months ago, and in re-allocating the cost savings into these and other kinds of needed services and programs.

Sadly, this reality was not enough to bring about more reasoned thinking and action in Connecticut, so I have altered my argument slightly to make one last point on this issue.

Think in terms of what is about to occur in our state.

Think about the next time you pick up your local paper and read about another social service agency closing its doors, or you open your mail and see the increase in your local property taxes (yes, the state is reducing aid to your city or town), or you learn of more job layoffs which hit your friends and neighbors who have worked their entire lives to support their families and communities and who, in many cases, provide basic services to our communities.

Just remember that this is occurring, in part, because we continue to waste more than $4 million each and every year for a death penalty that is almost never applied, even less frequently used, and which diverts huge amounts of money from the kinds of programs and services which we know keep us comfortable, safe and secure.

So when you can’t pay your next medical bill, or perhaps worse, you must pay exorbitant amounts of money to maintain your licenses or to access basic state services — money which helped to keep food in our refrigerator or heating oil in our tanks — you can thank our state senators in Hartford.

They are proud to stand up and tell you that they have acted to protect your interests by keeping the punishment of the death penalty on the books for one family, while ignoring many other surviving family members of murder who pleaded with them to put capital punishment to an end.

Additionally, their actions have actually punished every citizen in our state who is currently struggling to make ends meet.

Let’s be honest — the anti death penalty bill was derailed because of one case which occurred four years ago and which has, since that time, clouded our objectivity and overruled our common sense. As a result, we will all continue to suffer.

Politics as usual in Hartford has provided a Pyrrhic victory for death penalty supporters.

At a time when funding for education and public services is being cut, the state Senate has decided to have taxpayers continue to foot the bill for a failed system.

So remember to mail a quick thank-you note to your state Senator who voted against getting rid of the death penalty.

Better yet, just email or call them and save the postage — you’re going to need it.

George F. Kain is an associate professor in the Justice and Law Administration department at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury and is a police commissioner in Ridgefield.

Terrence P. Dwyer is an assistant professor in the Justice and Law Administration department at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury and is retired from the New York State Police, Bureau of Criminal Investigations.

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