Associated Press – December 12, 2007:

More than at any time over the past 30 years, the future of capital punishment is in limbo.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments next term in a momentous lethal injection case. While it’s widely expected that executions will resume in some form following that case, the moment gives Americans a chance to contemplate what would change if they stopped for good.

* States with many death-penalty cases would save millions of dollars now spent on legal costs in long-running appeals.

* Abroad, notably in Europe and Canada, America’s image would improve in countries that abolished capital punishment decades ago and now wonder why America remains one of only a handful of prosperous democracies that continue with executions.

* Among the American public, reaction would be deeply divided. Death penalty supporters would decry the loss of what they consider a valuable crime deterrent as well as the ultimate form of justice for victims and their families. Foes of execution would welcome the end of what they have deemed a barbaric national tradition.



  1. Thomas says:

    #60
    Yes really. I’m thinking that you have no idea what maximum security prisons in the US are like. Yes, both are morally wrong with respect to the individual. However, to ask of an alternative is a completely different question. Since neither solution is morally superior, we must look to alternate metrics to determine which is a “better” solution and that brings us back to cost.

  2. RBG says:

    As long as killers can escape and/or kill again without being stopped, execution has to be accepted as the cost of doing business – like safety equipment is. If cost was the only issue to be concerned with, all prisoners would simple be set free with ankle braclets. But again, that wouldn’t be safe for society.

    RBG

  3. Thomas says:

    #62
    The escape argument is fairly weak. Maximum security prisons have an incredibly good record at preventing escape. Obviously whatever solution must provide reasonable protection against further killings. Thus, bracelets, while cheaper, are not an adequate solution for killers that would have warranted the death penalty.

  4. RBG says:

    And these are just the ones I read about from time-to-time. Murders and Murder-suspects seem to be regularly finding ways of getting out. Prisons are not escape-proof.

    WASHINGTON (AP) — Two men charged in a fatal shooting … escaped aboard a city bus, authorities said.

    WASHINGTON (CNN) — FBI agents and U.S. marshals are searching for a convicted murderer who escaped Wednesday from a federal prison in Louisiana.

    CHICAGO (AP) — Six inmates — including two who are charged with murder — escaped during the night by overpowering a guard…

    PHOENIX CITY, Alabama (AP) — Police in Alabama and Georgia searched Monday for two murder suspects who fled from an overcrowded jail after overpowering guards…Johnny Brewer, a convicted murderer for killing a child he was baby-sitting and Lamar Benton, 19, charged in the rape-slaying of a 39-year-old woman. …110 miles away from their maximum-security prison.

    (CNN) — A Texas death row inmate escaped from the Harris County Jail in Houston on Thursday…
    WILKES-BARRE, Pa., Oct. 11 — A suspect in the murders of five people whose bodies were found in his backyard escaped from jail by climbing 60 feet down a rope made of bedsheets…

    Lyons identified the escapees as convicted murderer Kevin Gil, 31, of Boston; Philip J. Dick, 23, convicted of attempted murder; and Christopher McNeil, 35, of Willards, Md.

    ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Two prisoners escaped Sunday from a maximum security prison in Athens using a helicopter, authorities said. (one was a convicted killer.)

    CARROLL, New York (AP) — Police fired at a man believed to be fugitive Ralph “Buck” Phillips early Friday after the fleeing suspect aimed a handgun at an officer, sparking a massive search near the Pennsylvania state line, authorities said. Phillips, a career thief who broke out of an Erie County jail in April, is suspected of killing a state trooper and wounding two others.

    BLACKSBURG, Virginia (AP) — Virginia Tech shut down its campus Monday and ordered everyone to remain inside as authorities searched for an escaped inmate suspected of killing a hospital guard and a sheriff’s deputy.

    WASHINGTON (CNN) — FBI agents and U.S. marshals are searching for a convicted murderer who escaped Wednesday from a federal prison in Louisiana. Richard McNair, 47, is serving a life sentence in the U.S. penitentiary in Pollock, Louisiana, after being convicted of murder and burglary in North Dakota.

    CHICAGO (AP) — Six inmates — including two who are charged with murder — escaped during the night by overpowering a guard at the understaffed county jail, authorities said. Three were captured Sunday.

    Convicts Escaped By Hiding in Trash Truck. Nov. 4, 2005 — – Judy Trainer thought she was going on a routine pizza delivery. Her customers were none other than Johnny Brewer, a convicted murderer, and Jimmy Causey, a convicted kidnapper. They had been on the lam since Tuesday, when they escaped from a Columbia, S.C., prison.

    (CNN) — A Texas death row inmate escaped from the Harris County Jail in Houston on Thursday, dressed in civilian clothes and carrying identification indicating he worked in the attorney general’s office, a sheriff’s department spokesman said.

    HUGO SELENSKI, who was charged Monday with murder in two of the deaths, was the subject of a massive manhunt Saturday after escaping from his seventh-floor cell at the Luzerne County Correctional Facility.

    CONCORD, N.H. — Police tracked down a man at a motel they say helped three inmates, including a convicted murderer, escape from the New Hampshire State Prison (search), but when they tried to enter his room early Thursday, he shot himself. The inmates were still missing.

    TORONTO — RCMP officers in New Brunswick have apprehended a murderer and serial prison escapee who is one of the most wanted men in the United States. Richard Lee McNair, 48, has been on the U.S. Marshals’ 15 Most Wanted List ever since he “mailed” himself out of a Louisiana penitentiary more than a year ago.

    Not to mention the bulk of subsequent murders performed within the prisons.

    RBG

  5. RBG says:

    Now, if the options of life in prison and execution are about equal in their horror, why don’t you conduct a little poll amongst lifers to see which they prefer on a scale 1 to 10. People get used to anything, especially if it includes 3 meals, warmth, visitors, socializing, books, education, writing, medical, etc. The rest is punishment.

    RBG

  6. RBG says:

    If you want to compare the cost of execution to life in prison, let’s do it on a level playing field comparing apples to apples and other cliches I can’t think of at the moment.

    Execution involves a no-expense-too-high attempt to provide for the complete rights of the prisoner: ie: endless high-cost appeals, etc. You, know, all the things you are criticizing in your cost analysis.

    So what would it cost to similarly satisfy the rights of a lifer? What would it cost to eliminate with near certainty any chance of collateral murders within & outside of prisons by prisoners? …Eliminate all morally wrong conditions, including space issues, and violence and terror within prisons?

    A staggering, unpayable cost, that’s how much. So society makes concessions far from the ideal, necessarily violating a host of rights in the interest of limited finances.

    You want to compare execution with LWOP? Then, likewise, eliminate some of the costs of execution or raise the prison budget.

    RBG

  7. Thomas says:

    #64
    First, if you are trying to establish that people sentenced to life imprisonment continue to kill, your references must be explicit enough to mention that the killer was in fact given that sentence. Second, criminals that would have warranted the death penalty would likely be sent to supermax prisons (of which there are none in the Washington area). Evaluating escapes from supermax prisons, you will find the number incredibly low if any. I was unable to find any references to a successful escape from a supermax prison. Granted, supermax prisons have only been around since 1994 but since that time I believe the number of escapes is almost if not in fact zero.

    It is true that in order to evaluate the total cost of imprisoning an inmate one must evaluate the potential tragedy of them killing a guard. Yet we must also evaluate the probability of such an event occurring and over time, that probability has dropped precipitously with the advent of supermax prisons.

    #65
    Yes, why don’t we conduct such a poll? Find lifers at say Pelican Bay or McAlester, OK (which is entirely underground) where inmates spend 23 hours a day with no human contact and ask them whether they would have preferred a quick death to torment without end. Another possibility of course, is to actually give inmates the choice of State assisted suicide. That presents all kinds of conflict of interest problems of course but it would eliminate the already nonsensical “morality” argument of capital punishment.

    #66
    > So what would it cost to similarly
    > satisfy the rights of a lifer?

    That’s a strawman argument since they already have the rights of appeal. The difference is that people that sentenced to life imprisonment do not expend the same degree of immediacy and fervency with respect to appeals as those that are given the death penalty. Thus, fewer appeals means less cost. Now, if people that were sentenced to the death penalty *did* expend the same effort on appeals as those sentenced to life imprisonment, it seems likely that the cost would become comparable to capital punishment and thus make it a more attractive solution given reasons such as those that you mentioned like guard deaths and escapes. In other words, if morality and cost metrics are equivalent, then we must look to other metrics to determine which is “better” and that leads us to guard deaths and potential escapes which are low in the case of life imprisonment but zero in capital punishment.

    To answer the other part of your strawman, we can again answer that by looking at the cost of supermax prisons. The cost is not cheap, but apparently still less expensive than dealing with the appeals that actually occur on capital punishment cases. I could not find deaths of guards stationed at supermax prisons but I would bet the number is close to zero.

  8. Thomas says:

    > Now, if people that were sentenced to the death
    > penalty *did* expend the same effort on appeals
    > as those sentenced to life imprisonment

    That came out backwards. It should read:
    “Now if people that were sentenced to life imprisonment *did* expend the same effort on appeals as those sentenced to death…”

  9. RBG says:

    67. My 64 was simply to enlighten you that killers do escape prison on a regular basis contrary to your belief and in spite of your “supermax” words. Regardless of supermax, I have shown killers do escape, however the system is set up. This says nothing about killing again.

    I have conducted a poll. Turns out nearly every one of the killers sentenced to death checked the box requesting constant appeals and life sentences. I wonder why?

    They have those rights of appeal because society has *chosen* to provide those rights. There is a value to society equal to the expenditure. In the case of life in prison, society contrarily *chooses* not to provide unlimited spending to provide full rights to all the stake holders involved.

    It is not straw man to evaluate different economic alternatives as I did, whether they exist in fact or not. Just as you are speculating on cost savings if there was no capital punishment. Straw man is an easy cop out.

    Your supermax references are irrelevant as long as I can show, as I have, killers in prison continually escaping, and as long as you have no economic figures for placing all killers in these particular supermax institutions vs what they actually appear to be in that allows escape. No doubt this is why Life sentences are so much cheaper than death sentences.

    The solution is to make death sentences cheaper to administer if there is actually any concern about the economics. In the meantime, I’ll trump economics with lives.

    RBG

  10. Thomas says:

    #69
    > killers do escape prison on a regular basis
    > contrary to your belief and in spite of
    > your “supermax” words.

    Inmates that have killed do escape from prison occasionally. However, not all inmates that have killed are equivalent since not all crimes, even crimes that involve death, would have warranted the death penalty. Inmates that commit crimes sufficiently heinous as to warrant the death penalty but are instead given life imprisonment are sent to supermax prisons. Supermax prisons are not like normal prisons. Inmates are isolated 23 hours a day. In some like Oklahoma, they never see natural daylight.

    If escape and guard injury are truly the reasoning for preferring capital punishment over life imprisonment, there are solutions.

    > Your supermax references are irrelevant
    > as long as I can
    > show, as I have, killers in prison
    > continually escaping,
    > and as long as you have no economic
    > figures for placing all
    > killers in these particular supermax
    > institutions vs what
    > they actually appear to be in that
    > allows escape. No doubt
    > this is why Life sentences are so
    > much cheaper than death
    > sentences.

    Not every killing is given a life sentence nor warrant the sending to a supermax prison. Therefore your argument is flawed in that there can exist inmates that have killed in non-supermax prisons and not given life sentences. Criminals that would have received the death penalty are generally sent to supermax prisons and those prisons have a track record of incredibly low escapes (if any) and low guard deaths (if any).

    The question about cost is entirely different. That *can* be determined quite accurately. Estimates range from $50K-$75K per prisoner (whereas with lower security prisons it is somewhere between $20K-$30K). http://tinyurl.com/yfzvu5

    > I have conducted a poll.

    I question the results of your poll. Where are the results? How did you mitigate bias? What exactly were the questions? Regardless, it would be interesting to poll inmates both at the time they were sentenced, after say four or five years on death row (which may not be a supermax prison) and after they have been in a supermax for say ten or fifteen years and are looking at another forty or fifty. If done right, I’ll bet the results would be quite illuminating.

    > The solution is to make death sentences
    > cheaper to administer if there is actually
    > any concern about the economics. In the
    > meantime,
    > I’ll trump economics with lives.

    Well, we agree on making the process cheaper, but there is a lot to solve to make that happen. The cost in not in administration but in (no pun intended) the execution. The justice system itself has systemic problems in the process of conviction. There are simply too many cases of law enforcement taking short cuts to get someone wrongly convicted of a crime warranting capital punishment. Until *that* is solved or substantially reduced, the costs due to appeals will continue to make it a solution that is less attractive than “warehousing” them (a term actually used by prison officials). If safety of guards is the issue, there are solutions already in place that mitigate or nearly eliminate that problem.

  11. RBG says:

    I’ll say again, if you can so easily lower the price of life incarceration by destroying people & rights, it can be done similarly with the price of death sentence appeals.

    “Here, the record demonstrates that the conditions of extreme social isolation and reduced environmental stimulation found in the Pelican Bay SHU will likely inflict some degree of psychological trauma upon most inmates confined there for more than brief periods.

    “. . . [S]ubjecting individuals to conditions that are ‘very likely’ to render them psychotic or otherwise inflict a serious
    mental illness or seriously exacerbate an existing mental illness can not be squared with evolving standards of humanity or
    decency, especially when certain aspects of those conditions appear to bear little relation to security concerns. A risk this
    grave — this shocking and indecent–simply has no place in civilized society. . . .”

    Excerpts from Madrid v. Gomez
    No. C90-3094-TEH (N.D.Cal., January 10, 1995)
    Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Order

    Clearly murderers are given life sentences instead of death because of legal objections to the death penalty in the first place. Before we experiment with the lives of innocents who are killed by escaped convicted murders, I’ll leave it to someone else to provide the statistics as to how many of these killers would have been on death row if their jurisdiction allowed, or encouraged execution. In the meantime, I have already shown that it is impossible for society to prevent “collateral” murders. Otherwise we’d have none to report.

    Let me make the “poll” more clear to you. Convicted murderers “vote” with their instructions to their lawyers. What, you think these choir boys don’t know what prison is all about?

    I believe part of the cost of death appeals originates from the motivation of the inmates and their lawyers to use the system merely as a way to extend the inmates life. But that would never happen, would it?

    RBG

  12. Thomas says:

    > I’ll say again, if you can so easily lower the
    > price of life incarceration by
    > destroying people
    > & rights, it can be done similarly with
    > the price
    > of death sentence appeals.

    Huh? Let’s talk about current reality. It is currently the case that convicting and executing people consumes more resources than “warehousing” them. That is the reality. If we can divine some *reasonable* means to change that, then capital punishment would be a better solution. The excerpts you provided substantiate the opinion that life imprisonment, as it is implemented now for those warranting the death penalty, is as awful a sentence as execution. Thus, the “morality” argument against capital punishment is specious IMO.

    > Clearly murderers are given life sentences
    > instead of death because of legal
    > objections to
    > the death penalty in the first place

    Not necessarily. There could be a host of reasons for the death penalty not being available or pursued. In CA where the death penalty is available, there are many times when prosecutors will avoid seeking the death penalty specifically because it is more resource intensive and harder to succeed.

    > In the meantime, I have already shown that
    > it is
    > impossible for society to prevent “collateral”
    > murders.

    Yes, it is impossible to guarantee absolutely no additional “collateral” murders. However, there is more to the answer. We must assess the risk in life imprisonment. What is the probability of a guard being killed by a prisoner sentenced to a supermax prison over the course of the prisoner’s sentenced? As it stands now, the risk is extraordinarily low. If it were not, then imprisonment in general would need to be evaluated along the same risk/reward assessment. Is the risk to society of losing a guard greater than the benefit gained by incarceration?

    RE: The “poll”

    There are a host of possible reasons why there are fewer appeals for life imprisonment sentences. It may be more difficult to change a life imprisonment sentence than a death penalty sentence. In fact, it may be the case that overturning a death penalty sentence merely results in a life imprisonment sentence. Thus, it is harder to achieve any gain in changing a life imprisonment sentence. Further, I think there is a real ignorance about the conditions at supermax prisons by the general public including those that are convicted. It may very well be the case that at the time of conviction, the convicted prefer life imprisonment over execution simply out of ignorance about the conditions of imprisonment which will be unlike low or medium security imprisonment. I bet opinion changes within a few years of incarceration.

    I simply see no better or worse morality in either sentence nor do I see any reasonable alternative that provides adequate protection against recidivism. Therefore, if forced to choose between the two, we must evaluate the two choices based on objective evaluation of the current reality. As it stands now, in the current environment with the current judicial system, capital punishment is more costly. That does not mean it will always be so, but it is right now.

  13. RBG says:

    The excerpt says nothing of the kind. We know that because prisoners continue to choose life there over death. That doesn’t make it any less inhumane.

    If you are satisfied with maintaining “the current reality” then the current reality is that no one has any problem with the cost of appeals while they do about not spending money to maintain humane conditions in prisons. You can’t change and keep the “current reality” at same time.

    “Not necessarily” but enough to make a significant difference to any death row calculations. You either do or do not have the death penalty. Just because a state does not have it does not mean there otherwise would be no sentences worthy of death.

    Well, back to Thomas Jefferson: “I would rather see a thousand death row inmates executed than one innocent bystander murdered.” “The current realty” is that killers still kill again.

    Sorry, your idea that most lifers would prefer death stretches credulity and goes against what we know of human nature and the innate will to survive, as well as empirical evidence of the desperation in the appeals by prisoners and their supporters. Including constant legal ploys to stave off execution. Most of the worst parts of Supermax occur as part of a spectrum of privileges that are given or taken away as the result of personal behavior.

    Supermax is for extremely violent or disruptive prisoners. It is not for others, which is where the bulk of the muderers I speak of originate. That is why you don’t find these killers in supermax already. Organizations such as Amnesty Int’l would not allow such regular prisoner populations to be incarcerated in this way.

    RBG

  14. Thomas says:

    #73
    How do you figure that prisoners “choose” life over death? They have no choice in their sentencing. At no time, is a prisoner offered the choice of death. In fact, during their incarceration, the prisons go out of their way to ensure that they are unable to commit suicide.

    > If you are satisfied with maintaining “the
    > current reality” then the current reality
    > is that
    > no one has any problem with the cost
    > of appeals
    > while they do about not spending money to
    > maintain humane conditions in prisons.
    > You can’t
    > change and keep the “current reality” at same
    > time.

    So, you are saying that no one cares about the cost of appeals (which is not true) but they do care about spending less on maintaining humane conditions. If the cost of appeals were removed from the equation, there would be no valid argument against capital punishment in my opinion. Both sentences are equally inhumane (although a good argument could be made that imprisonment is more inhumane) and the cost of capital punishment would be substantially lower than imprisonment. To the second item, that seems self-evident. Of course people want to spend less on equal quality. However, if you are trying to say that they want to spend less on prisons, that is clearly not true. Counties and States in the US spend more on prisons than anyone in the world. Supermax prisons in particular are very expensive.

    > Just because a state does not have it does not
    > mean there otherwise would be no
    > sentences worthy
    > of death.

    Agreed which is why we must *only* analyze those that *would* have received a death sentence when analyzing escape rates and collateral deaths. It is possible to kill and not have warranted the death penalty.

    RE: Jefferson
    Jefferson was a proponent of limiting the use of the death penalty although he supported its use. All things being equal, I agree. However, what has changed since Jefferson’s time is the quality of prisons and the expense of the justice system specifically with respect to capital punishment. I’m a pragmatist. If the death penalty can be made as cost effective as imprisonment, then let’s keep it. If it cannot, as it is right now, then it does not make sense to continue using it. If we can reduce the cost of appeals in death penalty cases while still mitigating wrongful convictions, then I’m all for it.

    RE: Prisoners choosing death

    As I said, there are many reasons why the push for appeals in death penalty cases may be more fervent than imprisonment cases. One reason might be that death penalty cases are “sexier” to attorneys than imprisonment cases. Getting someone out of the death penalty gets you more future clients than reducing someone’s life sentence to say 40 years. Further, there is an ignorance about prison conditions and an understanding of the true scope of the punishment.

    > Most of the worst parts of Supermax occur
    > as part
    > of a spectrum of privileges that are given or
    > taken away as the result of personal behavior.

    Sorry but it is much more than that. Prisoners are isolated 23 hours a day. So, it is more than simple privileges that are taken away.

    RE: Amnesty International

    Actually, they already have lambasted the conditions at supermax prisons: http://tinyurl.com/3xh5e6. Prioners that commit crimes that would have received the death penalty and in States where supermax prisons are available go to those prisons. There was a interesting article in Forbes recently where it noted that because some new supermax prisons are not at capacity they are filling out the available space by moving criminals from lesser security prisons.

  15. RBG says:

    Prisoners who are facing a death sentence choose life by choosing to fight the death sentence with every resource and opportunity available to them.

    I see people, including Amnesty Int’l, out on the streets protesting for better prison conditions. I see no similar protests or even a ground-swell of interest for cheaper death sentence appeals.

    You are right about the cost of prisons being expensive, but I’m asking you to now imagine what it would cost to take nearly all the inhumanity and all the danger out of the prison system. That is simply a matter of spending decisions.

    And there are killers given life sentences, not because there might be mitigating circumstances, but only because there is no death penalty. When these people kill again, it proves my point for the need of a death penalty.

    I think a prisoner can use his own self-interest to rise above the lawyer’s need for “sex.”

    “The “prototype” or model for the Youngstown supermax is the Colorado State Penitentiary (CSP).

    Level I and are expected to proceed through Level II to Level III. Level I inmates have no privileges. Prisoners at Level II have
    television but programs are determined by the prison’s own station. Prisoners at Levels I and II must wear handcuffs, belly chains and leg shackles, and must be escorted by two guards whenever they leave their cells. At Level III, prisoners have more personal freedoms and more spending money. Level III
    prisoners are “allowed to walk the fifty feet to the shower or exercise room or telephone without escort. Prisoners at the different levels are mixed together in each unit, so that the privileges of those in Level III are visible to all.”
    http://tinyurl.com/chgbp

    “Almost all inmates have been transferred from other facilities, where they were deemed a serious lethal threat or a high-escape risk.”

    Re Amnesty Int’l: And that is why not all death row or other convicted murderers go to a supermax. Maybe after they escape & kill civilians or guards.

    “Harrelson (Woody’s father)wrote that he generally ignored his opportunity to go outside for an hour and enjoyed the simple pleasures of a shower and reading “until the wee hours.”

    “The station that airs NPR in Colorado Springs switches over to the BBC radio broadcast each morning,” he wrote. “It’s my window on the world. I love it.”

    “He enjoyed people coming to visit,” Tiernan said.

    “It could be infinitely worse,” Harrelson told Tiernan.”I could have been raised in one of those religious families. I could have been born in Darfur or Baghdad or Jerusalem or somewhere in another of those Third World countries where every bite of beans is a struggle,” Harrelson wrote.”
    http://tinyurl.com/2fxytu

    RBG