Veterans and the Death Penalty
Tomorrow is Veterans Day. Spare a thought for the hundreds of veterans currently sitting on death row somewhere in America.
A new report from the Death Penalty Information Center ties together veterans, PTSD, and the death penalty. Prisoners sentenced to die for terrible crimes are not sympathetic figures, in most cases. But it is worth considering the report’s underlying theme: our justice system has done a poor job of incorporating PTSD as a mitigating factor in capital cases.
The DPIC estimates that “at least 10%” of current death row prisoners—more than 300 people—are veterans, and more have already been executed. Here is the objection to that, in its most basic form:
There are two reasons to reconsider imposing a punishment on veterans that is supposed to be reserved for the very worst offenders: First, veterans have made a vital contribution to the safety of our country. Second, many have experienced trauma that few others in society have ever encountered—trauma that may have played a role in their committing serious crimes. These considerations do not justify ignoring offenses committed by veterans, but should challenge the practice of sentencing veterans—particularly those with disabilities—to the traumatic conditions of death row followed by execution at the hands of the government they had served.
The report includes case studies of veterans on death row and an overview of the historical scope of the problem posed by returning veterans with PTSD. Read it all here.
Those who actively support veterans tend to support measures that help to protect veterans by taking into account the hardship of their service. Those who oppose the death penalty tend to support any measures that cause the death penalty to be imposed on fewer people. Put these two groups together and there would seem to be a large and ready political coalition to be made for the purpose of looking at our sentencing laws and ensuring that they fairly and properly consider all aspects of a veteran’s life.
Veteran’s day ensures that at least once a year, we will all think about veteran’s issues. Most issues faced by veterans are grim. This is one of them. And this is one of the easier ones to deal with.