Q&A | Tower Scholar studies death penalty in Dallas County

The Tower Center sat down with Senior Kate Moody, class of 2017, to discuss her research project on the cost of the death penalty in Dallas County. Moody is majoring in human rights and international studies, with minors in Spanish and Public Policy and International Affairs as an HCM Tower Scholar. She plans to attend law school upon graduation in May.

Why did you decide to focus your research on the cost-effectiveness of the death penalty in Dallas County?

I am a human rights major and from the start of my time in the major, issues with our criminal justice  system captured my attention, specifically capital punishment and the use of the death penalty versus life without parole.  I can cite a lot of problems with the death penalty from a human rights perspective. However, my minor in public policy through the Tower Scholars Program and my second major in international studies have taught me there is more than one way to address a problem. For my research, I wanted to tackle an issue that was important to me because of my experience with human rights but from a public policy perspective. I hope that by focusing on the costs of the death penalty versus life without parole, I am able to communicate with a wider audience.

What have you learned so far from examining this issue?

I have learned that the death penalty is far more expensive than life without parole, but it is hard to collect the data to prove that. There have been tons of cost studies done in other death penalty states, but I have not been able to find a recent cost study on the death penalty in Texas. I think part of that is because Texas is the number one death penalty state in the nation, and I think as a culture in Texas we have normalized the use of the death penalty. I wonder if the high use of the death penalty in Texas is why there are few questions about its use and hence fewer studies published on the issue.

Has conducting the research been different from what you expected?

Yes, research has honestly been a lot harder than I expected. The advice I would give to someone starting research would be to stay true to your research but be flexible enough to adapt when circumstances require you to. It has been hard to collect cost information on capital punishment in Dallas County specifically, but instead of giving up, I had to adapt and narrow the scope of my research.

What did you take away from your experience interning for Congressman French Hill (R-AR-02)  in Washington DC?

I got the internship through a connection with the Tower Scholars Program; it was such a great opportunity to really see how public policy works in our nation’s capital. That experience affirmed my decision to approach my death penalty research from a public policy perspective because I think at the end of the day that perspective will get the message across and incite change.

Has your research made you feel more immersed in the Dallas community? If so, what has that been like?

Yes and no. Many organizations in Dallas have been helpful and given me advice whenever I have reached out to them. I also really like that my research is specific to Dallas County. On the other hand, submitting open records requests and getting them fulfilled has not always been the most efficient process, which can be frustrating. I think on that end, the lack of transparency has made me feel at times disconnected to Dallas.

How has your research impacted or shaped your goals for the future? What about the Tower Scholars Program?

Although I was intentional about studying the death penalty from the outset, I have really enjoyed the interdisciplinary approach in my research. I am preparing to go to law school in the fall, and because of this research experience, I want to be intentional about maintaining an interdisciplinary approach in my legal education and legal career. It has also been really neat to look back on my experience as an HCM Tower Scholar and remember those moments where public policy concepts sort of “clicked” and then seeing how they are playing out in my research now. I hope those are concepts I carry with me after I graduate in May.