It's my birthday today.
I've thought a bit more about the death penalty and the judicial/penitentiary systems and I'd like to say a couple more things.
Punishment, if it truly serves a penitential role (our word penitentiary comes from the Latin "penitentis" meaning to be sorry and reformed for the mistake or offense you've given) is good, but it seems our justice system has morphed into a sort of strained, quasi-civilized and organized vengeance-extraction system.
We let the family members of vitims watch their loved one's killers die... so that they'll have closure - as if ensuring that another person dies and you get to watch "the animal" be killed is closure.
I submit that it's all veiled animosity and beastly vengeance taking when it comes to the death penalty. Frakly it horrifies me to see people say "that's what he gets, justice is served" after hearing a death sentence pronounced; something that lowers the victims down next to the criminal in terms of humanity, because it serves only the selfish purpose of self-satisfaction rather than the selfless purpose of hoping (dare I say praying?) for the reform of the criminal.
Capital punishment came into existence to accomplish the removal of violent people from the functioning socity. Given today's legal environment, this is no longer necessary: high-security systems are easy to build and are no less expensive than the legal process to push the death penalty through to completion. Therefore the death penalty is truly not needed, other than as a tool to satisfy the victims, which is never acceptable when the price is the life of another man, guilty as he may be.
Of course my whole view on this is determined by my a priori assumption of the worth of any human life, and more specifically by the Christian dogmatic understanding that God made man in His image (which is love - "Deus caritas est", the last encyclical), to be a loving creature.
If you don't think of the human person as being in the image of a Creator, then there really is no reason to overcome your instinctual gut reaction to kill the person, to get that sweet revenge, to let (your) 'justice' be served...
Will you continue reading, good reader, if I should go on to say yet a few more things?
Many many Christian ministries (and to a lesser exent, secular undertakings) do attempt to fulfill the underlining promise of reforming the criminal, of offering them a chance to reintegrate back with society, to reconnect and understand that the social fabric cannot tolerate their criminal behavior or their taking advantage of the honest people.
It turns out that for mainstream secular America (including many who self-identify as "Christian" ) they would love (and do love) to ignore that bargain. Instead they turn their backs on the criminals even when the criminals are most in need of help. "That's right, you filthy animal - rot in jail for three decades." This isn't what I would evaluate as really furthering the cause either of country or of God.
Is it true that a lot of hardened criminals are firm in their ethos? Of course, no doubt. I'm not saying it's society's job to be naive and gentle (like the hippies who reformed the judicial system in the 60s). I'm saying that tough time, tough care, but loving care and outreach can and does bring back many felons to respect the rule of law and the fundamental meme of identifying one's self with a society and caring about it, even so far as to recognize God and begin a life of faith.
Sadly this is very rare in today's penitentiary systems, and it's something I would like to see changed. I am enamored with the old jail systems of the 20th century America. The chain-gangs along the highways, working hard labor but fruitful labor to help at least in some small way keep our country great. Not only did chain gangs allow the prisoners to get out and work on the land for the days, work like that can often allow a person to think. And if you're in jail and work on the chain gang six days a week, you have a lot of time to... think about a lot of different things.