Sunday, May 17, 2015

Boston: is this justice?

by Nani Lawrence, Writing Intern

Boston bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, received the death sentence. You know this already. You’ve read all those articles questioning the morality of the death penalty. “Killing to prove killing is wrong” and “X amount of innocent inmates” aside—though pretty dang valid on their own—people forget that money makes the world go round.

Some people support the death penalty because it costs less to put an inmate to death than
to support them in prison for the rest of their lives. But is that actually true? It seems to depend on which state you’re looking at. Even then, the answer appears ambiguous.
According to deathpenaltyinfo.org, a federal death penalty case typically costs over $620,000. When costs are less than $320,000, the probability of being sentenced to death increased roughly 25 percent. In California, these costs totaled $1.94 million, and incarceration as a whole totaled $1 billion. You could argue that these costs, while ridiculous, are just a one-time inconvenience. Fair.

Typically it costs anywhere from $20,000-$40,000 to house one inmate for one year, and sometimes more. TheLawDictionary.org estimates that housing one inmate in Guantanamo Bay costs taxpayers $900,000 a year. That’s one year. (If that ain’t enough justification to shut it down, what is.)

Prisoners have rights. They deserve health care. They deserve rehab. Some people “get” this. Largely, these and other essential needs account for the high costs taxpayers complain about and/or contribute to.

Here’s another horrifying statistic that you should already know: “the land of the free” has the highest incarceration rate in the world. In 2008, the US locked up 751 people per 100,000 people. “If you count only adults, one in 100 Americans is locked up,” wrote Adam Liptak for The New York Times. Can you imagine what that figure is, seven years later?
That seems like it just might be a whole heck of a lot of taxpayer money.

Dollars, sense, plus matters of morality—it may be time to rethink the death penalty. But these issues go WAY beyond that. To meaningfully reform the prison-industrial--the “penal system”--much, MUCH more has to change.

The increased costs of housing inmates are mainly due to an aging population’s healthcare costs. In California, an inmate costs about $50,000. KPBS Web Producer Wendy Fry found after an inmate hits 55, “you can basically calculate three times the cost.” California does have a high cost of living anyway, but spending on average $150,000 on just healthcare? That’s pretty steep. Healthcare reform anyone?

Drug policy changes might improve our incarceration travesty. Non-violent crimes do NOT deserve a years-long-to-life sentence. In the article mentioned above, Liptak wrote:

People who commit nonviolent crimes in the rest of the world are less likely to receive prison time and certainly less likely to receive long sentences. The United States is, for instance, the only advanced country that incarcerates people for minor property crimes like passing bad checks, (James) Whitman wrote. Efforts to combat illegal drugs play a major role in explaining long prison sentences in the United States as well. In 1980, there were about 40,000 people in American jails and prisons for drug crimes. These days, there are almost 500,000.

(Note: James Whitman is a specialist in comparative law at Yale.)

It may be a bit much to ask our “great” country to learn from any other, or care about the impacts incarceration has on non-violent criminals’ lives long after they’re released, or understand that marijuana has very positive effects on otherwise hopeless patients. But one can hope, no matter how naively.

Tsarnaev, without question, deserves to pay for what he did. Taxpayers giving even one cent, however indirectly, to this low-life is unconscionable. If putting to death one horrible individual is the answer, can you sleep at night knowing you indirectly condone all of these other policies? The “penal system” needs a complete overhaul to serve the citizens of this country, instead of potentially ruining their lives on both sides of the fence.  Maybe then, the U.S. might truly be “great” again
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