Everyday Lies

A correctional facility

Who, exactly, is being corrected by an execution?

This article is taken from the July 2021 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issue for just £10.

A euphemism may be defined as a lie that dares not speak its name, or perhaps as a lie ab ovo. I was interested to see that Lisa Montgomery, a woman who strangled her victim to death, conducted a caesarean section on her body, and then took her baby, was executed recently in Terre Haute, Indiana, in what is known as the Federal Correctional Complex which clearly includes an execution chamber, since Montgomery was the eleventh person executed there in a year.

The word correctional in this context is not without interest. Who, exactly, is being corrected by an execution? Unless you believe that the lessons learned in this world are carried over into the next, it surely cannot be the person executed. The whole of society, then? But in this case, the “Complex”, or that part of it devoted to executions, and also to the keeping of life-term prisoners, is a Deterrent rather than a Correctional facility. If you imprison someone for life, after all, you are not correcting him, whatever beneficial effect long-term incarceration and the passage of time may have on his character.

If you imprison someone for life you are not correcting him

At least in the prison in which I once worked, the place in which the executions took place (long before my employment there) was known colloquially as the Topping Shed. Inexactitude, the handmaiden of evasion, is commonplace. A demonstrator against Montgomery’s execution held up a placard on which was written People on death row are exonerated. But how could they be exonerated that is, absolved of murder by having been on death row? I suppose the demonstrator meant that being placed on death row is in itself punishment enough.

But it could hardly be severe punishment unless executions were at least sometimes carried out, otherwise it would be known in advance that death row was not really death row. Therefore, without really intending to, the demonstrator was implicitly supporting the death penalty.

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