I retired from the Department of Corrections in 2010 as Director of the Division of Prisons and currently work as a consultant on Prison litigation and management issues. I am here today as a board member of the Washington Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.
It is my hope that the State will seize the opportunity relinquish capital punishment and establish life without parole as the most stringent sentence for those guilty of aggravated murder 1st. Compared to the other bad choices you and your colleagues face in bringing in the State’s budget, transferring death penalty inmates to life without parole is both reasonable and pragmatic.
Often people believe that death row inmates are substantially different than other inmates in prison – that they are more dangerous and desperate than others. With my 35 years in the business and as a three time Warden and once a Director, I can assure you this is not the case. There is no distinction of difference between inmates sentenced to death and those whose crimes are similar – other than the sentence itself.
In fact – the Department of Corrections safely manages over two thousand murderers throughout the prison system today.
The department’s classification system classifies nearly half of the entire prison population – over seven thousand inmates – with the highest risk classification, known as “High Violent.” Less than a quarter of all murderers in DOC have a High Violent designation, and less than five percent of all murderers in prison require maximum custody.
Experience and data reveal clearly that death row inmates can easily be managed in a general population system just as safely as other inmates. It is the sentence of death – not the inmate – that burdens the department and taxpayers with the expense of managing these few inmates. As I’m sure you know, the department has to provide separate housing and activities for every aspect of their lives.
While I certainly do not represent the opinion of the Department of Corrections, I can tell you as Director during the onset of the Great Recession when I had to close prisons and lay off employees in a desperate effort to save money, I eyed Death Row and the Death Penalty as a colossal waste of money.
With few exceptions, inmates subject to the death penalty are typically more compliant with staff direction and prison regulations. Although any inmate can turn violent unexpectedly and cause great harm, there is no attribute of inmates sentenced to death that would produce a greater expectation of harm if they were integrated into the prison system with the other 620 Life Without Parole inmates.
I have had an opportunity to review the fiscal note, and it is also clear the potential savings at the local level can be very dramatic. It is my hope this highlights just how extravagant the expense is for managing 8 death row inmates. Consider if you will, there have been 79 death penalty trials since 1981. There have been 5 executions with 8 remaining on death row. This produces a very low expectation the death penalty will actually be implemented.
Time doesn’t allow for me to discuss with you my opinion of the state directing employees to carry out the tasks involved in an execution. I can tell you that being assigned to carry out those duties provokes much more contemplation than can be inspired by a retired geezer like myself. I’m hoping you will ponder what this means to those public servants as well.