There are Alternatives to Death Sentences

Although support for capital punishment remains strong in the United States, that support drops considerably when alternatives are offered.  In a 2009 Gallup Poll, 65% of Americans reported supporting capital punishment, but when offered a choice between a death sentence and life in prison, less than half chose the death penalty.  In a 2001 poll by Peter Hart Research Associates, support for capital punishment fell to 38% when a life sentence plus restitution for the victim's families was offered.

Alternative Sentencing

When prosecutors seek life sentences instead of death, vast amounts of time and resources are saved, and more importantly lives are saved by avoiding the brutalizing and dehumanizing act of execution.  Based on comparing the murder rates in states with the death penalty versus states without the death penalty, alternative sentencing does not raise the murder rate: 

Comparing murder rates in death penalty and non-death penalty states.

Alternative Spending

Because death sentences cost significantly more than life sentences (see Cost), abolishing the death penalty would provide additional resources that could be used for other ways of dealing with crime, like services for victims' family members, additional police officers, and indigent defense funding.

Alternatives Resources

Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation

Restorative Justice

Southern Center for Human Rights

Four of the many reasons to Oppose the Death Penalty:



Arbitrary Application


Question: Does the death penalty deter crime?  

Answer: No

There is a recent, somewhat technical study by Prof. Stephen Oliphant that found “no evidence to suggest that [death penalty moratoria] led to increases in homicide,” and that in three of the four states studied, homicide rates actually declined after the moratorium was imposed. See Oliphant, Estimating the effect of death penal­ty mora­to­ri­ums on homi­cide rates using the syn­thet­ic con­trol method, Criminology & Public Policy, 1 – 30 (2022),

Rob Dunham's study from the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) is much more easily understandable. He will be updating it soon, but the conclusions from the old numbers still hold true.

Here's a quick summary:

Mr Dunham's Death Penalty Information Center analysis of 30 years of FBI homicide data found no evidence that the death penalty deters murders and no evidence that it makes police safer.   


Looking at murder rates generally over this 30-year period, they found that murder rates were consistently higher in states that had the death penalty than in states that did not. To control for whether those numbers might be skewed by data from individual states, they also ranked the states by their homicide rates. And that analysis found that states with the death penalty disproportionately had the highest murder rates in the United States.   


The states with the lowest murder rates were disproportionately states that did not have the death penalty at any time during the 30-year study period, states that had recently abolished the death penalty, and death-penalty states that did not carry out executions.   


They also looked at FBI data on murders of law enforcement officials. Once again, they found that murder rates were higher in states that had the death penalty than in states that did not. Again, when they ranked the states based on officer safety, they found that the states in which police were the least safe were overwhelmingly states that had — and used — the death penalty. And again, as with murders generally, the states in which police officers were safest were those that never had the death penalty, those that had most recently abolished the death penalty, and those death penalty states that were not carrying out executions.   


Perhaps the most interesting discovery in the DPIC study was that the rates at which police officers were killed were the lowest in states that had most recently abolished the death penalty. That fact makes no sense if the presence of the death penalty made police safer. Yet it would be nonsensical to conclude that abolishing the death penalty made police officers safer. The numbers make sense only when one understands the disproportionate influence prosecutors and police wield in the legislative process and the similarly outsized impact killings of police officers have as a political issue. Without murders of police officers hijacking the death-penalty debate, states that were considering abolishing capital punishment were free to concentrate on the efficacy of the death penalty as a policy: whether it worked and whether it was worth the enormous economic and opportunity costs.  


In states in which murders of police officers were the lowest, the purported need to use capital punishment to protect police was no longer a salient political issue. And when that occurred, states were more receptive to abolishing capital punishment. 

Probably the best explanation of the study results is in testimony Mr Dunham gave in Wyoming on that state's bill to abolish the death penalty. (The testimony also has a bunch of good graphics.) Here's a link.

Also, here are two of Mr Dunham's twitter threads on this that might be helpful:

You can reach out to Mr Dunham directly:

Robert Dunham

Director, Death Penalty Policy Project

Special Counsel, Phillips Black

1901 S. 9th Street, Suite 608

Philadelphia, PA 19148

(888) 532-0897 — office

(215) 813-1388 — direct


Ordering death in Georgia

By CHICAGO TRIBUNE | Chicago Tribune
PUBLISHED: September 29, 2011 at 1:00 a.m. | UPDATED: August 23, 2021 at 6:45 a.m.

I can’t always remember their names, but in my nightmares I can see their faces. As the commissioner of the Georgia Department of Corrections from 1992 until 1995, I oversaw five executions. The first two were Thomas Dean Stevens and Christopher Burger, accomplices in a monstrous crime: as teenagers in 1977, they robbed and raped a cabdriver, put him in the trunk of a car, and pushed the vehicle into a pond. I had no doubt that they were guilty: They admitted it to me. But now it was 1993, and they were in their 30s. All these years later, after a little frontal-lobe development, they were entirely different people.

On execution days, I always drove from Atlanta to the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson. I knew death row well: 20 years earlier, I had built it. The state had hired me as the warden of Georgia Diagnostic in 1971, where I renovated a special cell block for especially violent offenders. After I left Georgia in 1977, the state reinstated the death penalty and turned the cell block I had developed into death row.

The state executed Stevens first, in June 1993, and then Burger in December. In both instances, I visited them in a cell next to the electric-chair chamber, where they counted down the hours until they died.

They were calm, mature, and remorseful. When the time came, I went to a small room directly behind the death chamber where the attorney general worked the phones, checking with the courts to make sure that the executions were not stayed. Then we asked the prisoners for their final words. Stevens said nothing, and Burger apologized, saying, “Please forgive me.” I looked to the prison electrician and ordered him to pull the switch.

Last Wednesday, as the state of Georgia prepared to execute Troy Davis despite concerns about his guilt, I wrote a letter with five former death-row wardens and directors urging Georgia prison officials to commute his sentence. I feared not only the risk of Georgia killing an innocent man, but also the psychological toll it would exact on the prison workers who performed his execution. “No one has the right to ask a public servant to take on a lifelong sentence of nagging doubt, and for some of us, shame and guilt,” we wrote in our letter.

The men and women who assist in executions are not psychopaths or sadists. They do their best to perform the impossible and inhumane job with which the state has charged them. Those of us who have participated in executions often suffer something very much like post-traumatic stress. Many turn to alcohol and drugs. For me, those nights that weren’t sleepless were plagued by nightmares. My mother and wife worried about me. I tried not to share with them that I was struggling, but they knew I was.

I didn’t grow up saying, “I want to work in prisons.” I had never even been in a prison or a jail before I became warden of the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison. The commissioner at the time hired me to revamp the system, to implement case management, and work with inmates to make them safer. I had always worked in helping professions, and my main goal in corrections was always to reduce recidivism, so that inmates would leave prison better than they arrived. Over this course of time, the death penalty figured larger and larger into my work. I never supported it, but I also did not want to let it distract me from improving overall prison conditions. Death-row inmates are, after all, only a tiny fraction of the prison population.

When I was required to supervise an execution, I tried to rationalize my work by thinking, if I just save one future victim, maybe it is worth it.

But I was very aware of the research showing that the death penalty wasn’t a deterrent. I left my job as corrections commissioner in Georgia in 1995 partially because I had had enough: I didn’t want to supervise the executions anymore. My focus changed to national crime policy and then to academia, where I could work to improve the criminal-justice system without participating in its worst parts. Today, I am the dean of the College of Justice & Safety at Eastern Kentucky University.

Having witnessed executions firsthand, I have no doubts: Capital punishment is a very scripted and rehearsed murder. It’s the most premeditated murder possible. As Troy Davis’ execution approached — and then passed its set hour, as the Supreme Court considered a stay — I thought of the terrible tension we all experienced as executions dragged into the late hours of the night. No one wanted to go ahead with the execution, but then a court stay offered little relief: You knew you were going to repeat the whole process and execute him sometime in the future.

I will always live with these images — with “nagging doubt,” even though I do not believe that any of the executions carried out under my watch were mistaken. I hope that, in the future, men and women will not die for their crimes, and other men and women will not have to kill them. The United States should be like every other civilized country in the Western world and abolish the death penalty.

Allen Ault is the dean of the College of Justice & Safety at Eastern Kentucky University.

Jerry BanksGeorgia Conviction: 1975Charges Dismissed: 1980 ‪Sentenced to death for two counts of murder. Banks' conviction was overturned on the basis of newly discovered evidence which was allegedly known to the state. (Banks v. State, 218 S.E.2d 851 (Ga. 1975)). Banks committed suicide after his wife divorced him. His estate won a settlement from the county for the benefit of his children.

162 People have been exonerated from death row in the United States since 1973; SIX were convicted and sentenced to death in Georgia. 

Causes of Wrongful ConvictionS

There have been 2,231 documented exonerations in the United States since 1989.  Many of those exonerations are thanks to DNA testing; most of the wrongful convictions were due to mistaken eyewitness identification.

Of the 2,231 documented exonerations in the United States since 1989, at least 652 of them have involved a mistaken identification.

Of the 32 documented exonerations in Georgia, 13 have involved a mistaken identification.


According to data maintained by the Innocence Project, mistaken identification is the leading cause of convictions in the United States that were later demonstrated to be wrongful thanks to DNA testing.  It has played a role in over 70% of convictions that have been overturned thanks to DNA testing.

"The number of DNA exonerations has demonstrated that innocent people are convicted and sentenced to death.  While eyewitness testimony commonly is believed to be one of the most reliable and incriminating types of evidence, in fact mistaken eyewitness identification testimony is the leading cause of wrongful convictions in the United States."

- Mark Loudon-Brown, Senior Attorney at the Southern Center for Human Rights

”Every dollar we spend on a capital case is a dollar we can't spend anywhere else... We have to let the public know what it costs [to pursue a capital case.]” 
  --John M. Bailey, Chief State's Attorney, Connecticut

The death penalty costs significantly more than permanent imprisonment.

‪The most comprehensive study yet conducted on the cost of capital punishment found that the death penalty costs North Carolina $2.16 million more per execution than the a non-death penalty murder case with a sentence of life imprisonment.

‪[Death Penalty Info Center]

‪Georgia Facts on Cost

‪There has never been a complete study of the cost of Georgia's death penalty.  However, the recent case of Brian Nichols illustrates the huge drain capital punishment places on the state's resources.  According to this report from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the trial phase alone cost over $3 million.  

‪But why does pursuing the death penalty cost more than life imprisonment?  

‪Trials cost more when the stakes are higher because of more careful jury selection and more experts and investigators.  The trial is followed by a lengthy penalty phase, state appeals, and federal appeals, all of which incur more costs.  Finally, the costs of maintaining a death row and execution chamber makes housing death row inmates more expensive than those sentenced to life without parole.

"Getting the death penalty in Georgia is as consistent as a lightning strike."
  --"A Matter of Life and Death," Atlanta Journal-Constitution, September 2007

The death penalty is intended to punish only the most brutal crimes... 

...but in reality its application is biased, arbitrary, and unfair.  Several other factors contribute to who receives a death sentence more than the brutality of the crime, including race, class, and geography, among others.  Here are some facts from Georgia:




 The district attorney in each county has sole discretion over when to pursue a death sentence. This means that where a crime is committed can be as significant as what type of crime is committed in determining who lives and who dies.

"The reality is that capital punishment in America is a lottery.  It is a punishment that is shaped by the constraints of poverty, race, geography and local politics."

 --Bryan Stevenson, death row lawyer

"We believe the death penalty denies the power of Christ to redeem, restore, and transform all human beings."
--United Methodist Church  

"If a person foolishly does me wrong, I will return to him the protection of my boundless love. The more evil that comes from him, the more good will go from me."
-- The Buddha

What does your faith community have to say about the Death Penalty?

More information can be found on the Faith Communities Resources tab or via clicking HERE.