The death penalty is barbaric. I read today that in the middle east they are going to execute a guy for too many spiritual musings on his television show. He got in a little too deep with the mystics.
But how is it any better here in America? In 2005, the state of California executed Tookie Williams. He was one of the founders of the Crips and along his journey towards becoming an educator and author of children’s stories and a living model for staying out of gangs… San Quentin finally pulled the trigger.
Somehow, I don’t feel any safer that Tookie Williams was executed. In fact, as a citizen of California, I felt complicit in his execution because we the people decide these things.
Then I read in the San Diego Union Tribune this morning that the state’s system for the “death penalty” is essentially broken. That Tookie Williams was one of only 13 death row inmates actually executed since 1978. Apparently far more people die on death row from natural causes– which I actually feel better about. Except for the fact that the state spends $137.7 million dollars a year to sustain it’s “death penalty” option. By contrast, to manage cases toward a verdict of “life without parole” costs only $11.5 million dollars a year. So the seldom-actually-used death penalty in California costs 10 times what it costs to sentence an inmate to “life without parole”.
You know where I am going with this?
One of my students at USD posted a great piece on our class blog in which she examined the overall prison system in comparison to public education.
Over the last twenty years, state spending on prisons has increased by 40% while spending on higher education has decreased by 30 percent (Williams, 2007). Today in California, 11 percent of the state budget goes to prisons while only 7.5 percent goes towards higher education.
We will spend $7,000 per student at El Milagro, but it will cost $90,000 to keep inmates incarcerated on death row!
Seems like we have our priorities ass backwards again. And it seems like an easy fix. It will be far easier to sustain and improve public education if we dismantle the costly and barbaric business of capital punishment.