The timing is perfect for Georgians to start a conversation about the death penalty. Our state led the nation in executions last year with nine, but we have not had a single death sentence in nearly three years. At the same time, Governor Deal has put Georgia at the forefront of criminal justice reform. I believe that now is the time to talk about reforming, and eventually abolishing, Georgia’s death penalty.
I am not the only conservative that thinks we need to reexamine the death penalty. On January 19, I was one of several people who took part in a news conference at the state capitol to officially launch the new group Georgia Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty. As a young conservative, I was honored to stand with such a diverse group of accomplished people that included a Republican State Representative, leaders from the pro-life movement, a Libertarian think tank leader, and a former Republican Party official, among others. Our goal was to start a conversation, to search for common ground, and be a catalyst for lawmakers to begin examining the many failures of the death penalty.
As a conservative, I look skeptically upon the state’s ability to carry out death sentences effectively. Conservatives correctly highlight the inefficiencies that exist at all levels of government. We cannot trust this same flawed government with carrying out the most serious of sentences. Since capital punishment was reinstituted in Georgia four decades ago, six people have been exonerated, found to be wrongly convicted, and released from death row. Taking innocent lives violates everything that I believe. We cannot reverse an execution.
I am a proponent of evidence-based problem solving. The evidence shows the death penalty does not make us any safer, is more expensive than life without parole, and is not a deterrent to crime. As a conservative, that bothers me. As a matter of principle, I believe in limited government that uses taxpayer dollars effectively while producing positive results for our state. The death penalty does not help us reach any of those goals.
It is wrong to have people sitting on death row for 20, 30, or more years before anything happens. However, we can’t speed up the process without the danger of even more mistakes and risking innocent lives. Plus, in some cases, people have found redemption and have turned their lives around in prison, helping other inmates and inspiring others. So, the possibility of finding redemption is there, and as a Christian, I do not believe we should interfere with God’s plans.
Make no mistake about it; conservative values — from faith to fiscal responsibility – have been helping to fuel the trend away from capital punishment in Georgia. Now that we have started the conversation at the state legislature and gone public with our conservative-based concerns about the death penalty, I believe our efforts to fix a broken system will gain even more traction. We may not have everyone on our side yet, but every day more Georgians are coming to the realization that the death penalty does not work.