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Most Americans Approve of the Death Penalty. Do You?

As a healthcare provider, I have always been interested in topics that concern incarcerated citizens, whether the discussion is related to the pursuit of aggressive care or jurisprudence in general. Additionally, I have followed the issue of capital punishment for most of my career, wondering if our democracy would continue this form of punishment for violent crimes.

In the early 2000s, public opinion moved away from capital punishment. The days of executing violent criminals such as Ted Bundy (who was killed in the electric chair in 1989) seemed to be in the rearview mirror. The ability of prison systems to obtain drugs for execution had become arduous, and Americans appeared disinterested in continuing with the process. Slowly, states began opting out of executions. Currently, 27 US states offer the death penalty as an option at prosecution.

Botched Executions

So far in 2021, 11 prisoners have been put to death by the federal government as well as five states, using either a one-drug or three-drug intravenous protocol. Of those prisoners, one was female.

The length of time from sentencing to date of execution varied from a low of 9 years to a high of 29 years, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Of the executions performed this year, one was considered “botched.” The victim convulsed and vomited for several minutes before his ultimate demise. In fact, in the history of using the death penalty, from 1890-2010, approximately 3% of total executions (276 prisoners) were botched. They involved failed electric shocks, convulsions, labored breathing, and in one particularly horrific incident, a victim who was shot in the hip and abdomen by a firing squad and took several minutes to die.

One of the more difficult tasks for conducting an execution is intravenous access, with acquisition of an IV site proving to be a common issue. Another concern involves intravenous efficacy, or failure of the site to remain patent until death is achieved. That is why a few states that still practice capital punishment have returned to an electric chair option for execution (the method is chosen by the prisoner).

Majority Favor Capital Punishment

But why do most Americans believe we need the death penalty? According to a 2021 poll by the Pew Research Center, 60% of US citizens favor the use of capital punishment for those convicted of murder, including 27% who strongly favor its use. About 4 in 10 oppose the punishment, but only 15% are strongly opposed. The belief of those who favor retaining execution is that use of the death penalty deters violent crime.

Surprisingly, the American South has both the highest murder rate in the country and the highest percentage of executions. This geographic area encompasses 81% of the nation’s executions. A 2012 National Research Council poll determined that studies claiming the death penalty deters violent crime are “fundamentally flawed.” States that have abolished the death penalty do not show an increase in murder rates; in fact, the opposite is true, the organization concluded.

Since 1990, states without death penalty punishment have had consistently lower murder rates than those that retain capital punishment

Where Does That Leave Us?

Place my attitude in the column labeled “undecided.” I would love to believe capital punishment is a deterrent to violent crime, yet statistics do not prove the hypothesis to be true. We live in one of the more violent times in history, with mass shootings becoming commonplace. Large-scale retail theft has also been on the rise, especially in recent weeks.

The idea of severe punishment for heinous crime appeals to me, yet in 2001 Timothy McVeigh was executed after eating ice cream and gazing at the moon. His treatment before execution and the length of time he served were in opposition to other inmates sentenced to death. This, despite being punished for killing 168 people (including 19 children) in the Oklahoma City bombings.

I know we cannot be complacent. Violent crime needs to be reduced, and Americans need to feel safe. The process for achieving that goal? You tell me.

Nurses in Prisons

About 1% of employed nurses (ie, close to 21,000) in the United States work in prisons. This figure does not include the many LPNs and unlicensed assistive personnel who are also working in the field and may underrepresent actual numbers.

Correctional nurses have their own scope and standards of practice. They demonstrate superb assessment skills and organization.

If you can hire a correctional nurse, or even aspire to be one, do not hesitate. Patients will thank you.

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About Diane M. Goodman

Diane M. Goodman, BSN, MSN-C, APRN, is a semi-retired nurse practitioner who contributes to COVID-19 task force teams and dismantles vaccine disinformation, as well as publishing in various nursing venues. During decades at the bedside, Goodman worked in both private practice and critical care, carrying up to five nursing certifications simultaneously. Yet she is not all about nursing. She is equally passionate about her dogs and watching movies, enjoying both during time away from professional activities. Her tiny chihuahuas are contest winners, proving that both Momma and the dogs are busy, productive girls!