Mad Middle Class Mom’s Take on the Death Penalty Debate

Walla Walla_600Today marks the 25th anniversary of Westley Allan Dodd’s execution by hanging. He was convicted (beyond the shadow of a doubt) of killing three young boys, and even admitted plans to further his list of victims given the chance. Earlier this year, Washington State Governor Jay Inslee put a moratorium on the death penalty. Had Dodd’s time come in 2014, and not 1989, Inslee would have opted for him to live.

Three innocent young boys were murdered, families were torn apart, and a community scarred. Why would our governor choose to protect Dodd rather than stand up for the devastated family?

Today’s capital punishment debate is not about ethics, it’s about money. Since death row inmates sit in prison an average of 20 years between conviction and death, with endless appeals, I can see why the cost is so concerning.

Law Professor, Frank Zimring said is best, “What we are paying for at such great cost is essentially our own ambivalence about capital punishment. We try to maintain the apparatus of state killing and another apparatus that almost guarantees that it won’t happen. The public pays for both sides”. Just add capital punishment to the list of processes the government mismanages.

What is the solution? Some say to abolish the death penalty all together and give these type of convicted criminals life without parole (LWOP). That solution worries me.

#1- Our prison system is a cake walk
What would it look like if the death penalty no longer existed and Westley Allan Dodd was spending his life in prison? In my mind’s eye, it looks like a murderer and rapist living the rest of his life in a community where his basic (and often times, not-so-basic) necessities are provided for him at no cost. He could take advantage of the many benefits now offered at a state pen; exercise courses, intramural activities, hobbies, schooling, and gym time. He would be given ‘appetizing and varied’ meals (no doubt better than the neighborhood school options), have his medical and dental care covered, and find friendship. Not ideal to be locked up, but hardly punishment!

In the 1960’s inmates were able to go on a ‘field trip’ into the local community to experience life on the outside. The program was called, “Take a Lifer to dinner”. Really? This is the punishment we want potential death row inmates to have instead of death?

#2- Life doesn’t actually mean Life
Fox News in Seattle reported more than 200 prison inmates sentenced to life have the chance to be released. These aren’t just 18 year-olds that stole the neighbor’s bike. Larry Knox killed a woman’s parents, raped her and attempted to kidnap her. He was sentenced by a jury of peers. The Department of Corrections’ Indeterminate Sentence Review Board, think it is ok to overrule the jury and parole him. Donald Hooper kidnapped a 14-year old girl, raped her, and tried to kill her. He admitted to victimizing other women, and a prison psychologist recently reported that he is still a danger. Yet, the review board still felt confident that he was fit for release and let him go last year.

A sentence of life could turn out to be so much less depending on the state of our lenient and every-changing laws.

#3- Abolish the Death Penalty. Next… Abolish Life without Parole
Groups like Thinkprogress.org are already trying to abolish the sentence of Life without Parole. We get rid of the death penalty. Next step, abolishing life in prison. What’s next? Should we send convicted criminals to the Bahamas for a nice relaxing vacation? Give them massages on the beach while Mozart is floating upon the breeze? After all, these poor murderers must have had some traumatic incidents happen in their lives to make them act this way, right? Even major news outlets are jumping on this bandwagon. Apparently, it just isn’t European to hold violent offenders in prison for life. Shame on us America!

#4- It’s really about protecting our community
I am not a huge proponent of the death penalty. I don’t know if I could ‘pull the trigger’, so it’s hard for me to say someone else MUST. But, I am a huge proponent of society being protected from dangerous criminals. Sadly, some would rather hold the hand of the criminal, than hug the victim, and shield the community. Ultimately, the best way to protect society, myself, my children, and my neighbors is to not give criminals the opportunity to hurt us ever again.

Mad Middle Class Mom’s Solution…
Rather than the long and expensive road to death row… how about a 7×7 concrete-walled room with a toilet, a cot, and a slot where basic nutrients and correspondence are passed. If the jury of peers found him guilty and sentenced him to Life without Parole, then he serves life without parole. The only exception would be if DNA evidence proves the case otherwise, and that appeals process is paid for by his family or one of the many organizations dedicated to criminals’ rights. That would reduce costs significantly, protect the community, and make things more cut and dry.

In fact, we should take this opportunity to overhaul the whole corrections department while we’re at it!

One need only look to Arizona. Maricopa County Sheriff, Joe Arpaio, AKA “America’s Toughest Sheriff” runs a tight ship down south. The community has given him the official thumbs up a record six times at the ballot box. He continuously reduces the crime rate in the area and organizes over 3000 volunteers for search and rescues, holiday events, and special security needs. He’s been sued and is constantly harassed about the ‘inhumane’ way the inmates are treated.

Inmates are fed two meals per day which cost an average of $.15 to $.40 each. He has banned porn, smoking, coffee, and movies. He has re-introduced Chain Gangs for the men and the women, where inmates provide thousands of dollars in free labor to the community by doing things like cleaning the streets, and painting over graffiti. He eliminated salt and pepper, saving tax-payers an estimated $20,000! And if you know anything about Sheriff Joe, you probably know… the inmates wear pink underwear. He recognizes that he’s running a jail and not a resort. He keeps costs down, he runs programs to help the community, and he has high school and anti-substance-abuse programs to help the inmates. If people don’t like the way they are treated there, they shouldn’t commit crime.

Imagine how much money in tax-paying dollars would be saved by running our correctional system like Sheriff Joe! That money could be diverted to programs aimed at keeping our youth out of jail, rather than spoiling them when they get there.

With the ACLU, NAACP, and the NCADP pulling for the criminals and ignoring the safety of the rest of us, I don’t see any of this happening wide scale. Heaven forbid a man that brutally rapes and murders an innocent woman only get a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch.

A couple of interesting tidbits…
– Race is often brought up in this debate. There have been 78 men executed under the death penalty in Washington State since 1904. Sixty-six were white, only seven were black. Currently 71.5% of inmates in this state are white, 18.7% are black.
– They really have a license plate factory at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla! They produce over 2 million plates per year!                                                     – Whether you’re an inmate in today’s prison, or in Sheriff Joe’s jail… you’re still much better off than prisoners around the world.                                                                              – I KNOW that not everyone in jail is a danger to society. People make bad choices, they make mistakes. We’re all human. But bad choices that have no consequences are much more likely to be repeated. There are and should continue to be strict guidelines on sentencing options depending on the crime committed. Crimes against children should be stricter. It is our job as a society to protect our children, and we’re doing a terrible job of that right now.

Until we meet again…

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