Many recognize the pain, destruction, and loss of life caused by war. Numerous are fearful about the death and devastation that could be caused by North Korea’s possession of a nuclear weapon. We rally to end violence, end hatred, end bigotry in order to save lives. Our world is hurting, damaged, divided. There is already so much death and killing around us and across the globe, why do we continue to “justify” killing in our criminal justice system?
Two months ago I wrote a blog about the death penalty, and since then five more men have been executed on death row. In that same time, Harvard’s Fair Punishment Project came out with a report specifically on prisoners on Ohio’s execution list and how they are impaired and traumatized. Click here for the report (please note, the report contains graphic information).
The Fair Punishment Project examined 26 men on Ohio’s death row and found that they “are among the most impaired and traumatized among us – a pattern replicated across America’s death rows.” These individuals have been affected by childhood trauma, physical and sexual abuse, and often suffer from a mental illness or intellectual disability. Some were under the age of 21 when they committed the crime that led to their sentence, yet scholars argue a brain at such a young age is still underdeveloped.
The Eight Amendment protects against cruel and unusual punishment, specifically for those most vulnerable in capital punishment cases such as the mentally ill, and the Gospel gives a clear directive to love rather than retaliate: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you. (Matthew 5:43-44). When will our world know peace? When will we come together to work toward conversion and rehabilitation rather than an eye for an eye?
The Catholic Church believes that the death penalty is an unnecessary and systemically flawed form of punishment. Please pray for an end to the death penalty, for the families of the victims, for those involved in carrying out the executions, and for those on death row. May our prayers and our actions toward peace continue to challenge the status quo and encourage others to live lives of peace rooted in the Gospel.