Friday, October 03, 2008

Perspective from a Former Warden

I strongly encourage you to read the Op-Ed by Jeanne Woodford in yesterday's LA Times. Woodford is a former warden of California's San Quentin prison, which is where California's death row is housed. She presided over 4 executions as warden and has come to believe that the death penalty does not keep us safer, is more expensive, and is generally not good public policy.

A couple of snippets of the piece stuck out to me in particular:

"As I presided over Massie's execution, I thought about the abuse and neglect he endured as a child in the foster care system. We failed to keep him safe, and our failure contributed to who he was as an adult. Instead of spending hundreds of millions of dollars to kill him, what if we spent that money on other foster children so that we stop producing men like Massie in the first place?"

What if? Woodford focuses much of the Op-Ed on the outrageous additional expenses involved in imprisoning a death row inmate. Studies show that California alone spends an additional $100M per year to house and process death row inmates than it would if those inmates were merely confined to prison for life. Just imagine how much we could do with $100M! What if we used it to develop programs that might help prevent some of this crime in the first place? What if we used it to feed people, create jobs, develop infrastructure, improve education, or mentor at-risk kids? What if we spent it on programs to rehabilitate those guilty of petty crimes that might be at-risk for escalating to violence? What if...

She ends with this poignant statement:

"To say that I have regrets about my involvement in the death penalty is to let myself off the hook too easily. To take a life in order to prove how much we value another life does not strengthen our society. It is a public policy that devalues our very being and detracts crucial resources from programs that could truly make our communities safe." (emphasis added)

What do we have when the executed are gone? Are we safer? Are we more at ease? Right now, as Woodford notes, what we have is a public policy "that devalues our very being."

Woodford's piece is well taken and gut wrenching. It is well worth the read.

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