Archive for March, 2009


Spectacular news from New Mexico– last week it became the 15th state to abolish the death penalty. On March 18, Governor Bill Richardson signed into law legislation instituting life in prison without the possibility of parole as the maximum punishment in the state, replacing lethal injection.

This news is especially encouraging for capital punishment abolitionists as Richardson was a long-time supporter of the death penalty.  An article in the New York Times last month suggested Richardson was considering eliminating the death penalty due to its expensive cost, but he ultimately cited concerns over flaws in the judicial system as his main reason for repealing capital punishment. In his words:

I do not have confidence in the criminal justice system as it currently operates to be the final arbiter when it comes to who lives and who dies for their crime… From an international human rights perspective, there is no reason the United States should be behind the rest of the world on this issue. Many of the countries that continue to support and use the death penalty are also the most repressive nations in the world. That’s not something to be proud of.

Although Richardson is certainly to be commended for his decision, there’s still a catch (or two): the law only applies to crimes committed after July 1, 2009, and New Mexico currently has two inmates on death row, Robert Fry and Timothy Allen. They are not eligible for commutation of their sentences under this law, and Richardson has so far given no indication that he will make exceptions in their cases.

So where does this leave the U.S. for the rest of 2009? Here are some numbers from the Death Penalty Information Center:

  • Inmates currently on death row in the United States: 3,190
  • Inmates currently on death row for the U.S. Government and Military: 60
  • States with the death penalty vs. those without: 35 vs. 15

Contact Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico and congratulate him on his decision to repeal the death penalty, but also urge him to commute the sentences of the two remaining prisoners on death row:

Office of the Governor
490 Old Santa Fe Trail
Room 400
Santa Fe, NM 87501
(505) 476-2200
Email Bill Richardson

To contact your own governor and express support for abolishing the death penalty, click here.


Update: Read the New York Timeseditorial advocating nationwide abolishment of the death penalty from September 27, 2009.


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If you haven’t had your head buried in the sand for the last few months, you know that the United States is suffering a recession. Families, businesses, and government alike are looking for ways to cut costs, and interestingly enough, the tremulous state of the economy has inspired the Pew Center to issue a new report that encourages states to reduce their spending on corrections as 1 in every 31 adults in America is either imprisoned, on probation, or on parole.

The Pew Center’s Public Safety Performance Project, famous for its study revealing that 1 in 100 adults in the United States is behind bars, breaks down correctional expenses for offenders as such:

  • Inmates: $29,000 per year
  • Parolees: $2,750 per year
  • Probationers: $1,250 per year

These costs are surprisingly high. Prisoners understandably require housing, food, and medical care, but $29,000 is more than many unimprisoned people earn a year to support themselves and their families.

But what’s perhaps most surprising about these figures are the costs of keeping offenders on parole and probation. It takes a significant amount of money to monitor an individual even outside of prison. While a few thousand dollars per person per year may not seem much, when you consider the number of people in the correctional system, it definitely adds up for state governments paying the bills:

  • 2,293,157 inmates x $29,000= $66,501,553,000 per year
  • 824,365 parolees x $2,750= $2,267,003,750 per year
  • 4,293,163 probationers x $1,250= $5,366,453,750 per year
  • Grand total: $74,135,010,500 (74 billion!) per year

These costs are directly attributable to a tripled increase in the correctional population in the last 25 years (from two million individuals to over seven million). However, while the financial costs of this ballooning population are staggering, the growing numbers of inmates, parolees, and probationers provoke an even greater expense– public safety.

The Public Safety Performance Project rightly asserts that building more prisons does not keep people safer. As an alternative, it proposes funnelling lower risk offenders through community corrections programs that hold offenders directly accountable to their communities and offer rehabilitative services that reduce recidivism (the prison re-entry rate) and thus new crimes.  Offering individuals incentives to stay crime and drug free, along with incentives for community corrections agencies to improve their success rates, would save state governments millions of dollars in year by reducing the prison population and keeping individuals out of the traditional, costly correctional system. Community programs that have found success are numerous, including the New York City Justice Corps and Hawaii’s HOPE Probation.

For more information about community corrections programs in your state, click here.

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