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|California State Government||June 6, 2006 Election|
The State is Being Bankrupted by Prisons and Capital Punishment
By Michael S. StrimlingCandidate for Governor; Democratic Party
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California Prisons have expanded 800% in the last two decades, with little increase in safety but great costs. We cannot live this way, we cannot educate our workforce or progress with the extra $6 billion a year spent on criminal sentences that are harsher than any other State and a death penalty not practiced in 21 States or any other modern country.In 1980, California had 22,000 prisoners, now we have 168,000 - an increase of 800%. Are we 8 times as safe? This has increased costs of prisons by $6 billion per year. Thirty years ago, California had the best schools and 9 prisons. Now we have the most prisoners and 32 prisons - 23 new ones while the State only built 4 colleges. Tuition is going up and K-12 schools are bankrupt, but prisons keep being expanded. Why do we impose life sentences for nonviolent offenders, when we can train the repentant for productive jobs? We sentence someone who steals garden tools to 25 years-to-life in prison under 3-strikes. We must feed and house him at the cost of $40,000 per year, that's $1 million in 25 years. Perhaps we gain a little safety for our possessions, but the cost is more than it would be to buy insurance for everyone, and we lose the productive work of 100,000 prisoners. 33,000 are just in for drugs, nothing else. The increase in the number of prisoners and length of sentences has meant an increase in the power of prison gangs, all with tentacles outside prisons, costing society much more.
Moreover, each county's District Attorney and Courts differ on how much they charge or sentence under 3-strikes laws. Prisons are plainly used for social control. Only 15% of drug users are minorities, but 59% of those in prison for drugs are minorities. Our incarceration rate is 5 times that of England, 10 times that of the Dutch. Now our cities depend more and more on the prison industry. Prison guards have grown in power. They have negotiated pensions that are larger than the pension of Judges, teachers or nurses. But those guards could be PE teachers or police on the beat solving crimes instead of caging human beings.
We must distinguish between the aberrant and violent offenders and the petty and nonviolent offenders. We must reorder our priorities before the cost takes us under. No other candidate is raising this issue. If you think that the growth of prisons is out of control, please consider supporting this campaign and helping us get the word out.
CAPITAL PUNISHMENT is an emotional issue. Those who feel it is right in their gut find any reason to support it. Mike Strimling has been a victim of crime, including a violent mugging, and he understands that revenge is a natural emotion. But we need to talk sense about how the death penalty really works. First, the death penalty is biased. The rich, with good attorneys, like O.J. Simpson, rarely get the death penalty. Those who kill nonwhites are much less likely to get the death penalty than those who kill whites. Second, it is expensive. The LA Times reports that the trials and appeals that are needed to make executions Constitutional cost $250 million dollars for EACH prisoner. Life sentences without parole are much, much less expensive, and a trial ending in a life sentence costs less than $50,000. Moreover, with DNA testing, we find that some on death row are innocent. Many are convicted from testimony of other inmates who are offered light sentences for suspicious testimony. Capital punishment also does not deter, and might actually encourage murder by showing that the State approves killing as a moral solution. 21 States in the US either ban or have not imposed the death penalty since 1972, and they have lower murder rates than neighboring States which impose death. We have a murder rate 5 times that of any European country, none of which have the death penalty. It is banned in 75 countries, including every modern country. The death penalty puts us with such countries as North Korea, Cuba and Saudi Arabia. Life in prison without parole is no picnic - we need to consider whether the death penalty is worthy of us.
At least we should debate this. Perhaps, at most, like some States, a compromise would impose death only upon the second murder - to keep murderers from killing in prison or plotting further murders. A moratorium is necessary to debate these serious policy issues. Democratic candidates for 16 years have all favored the death penalty. If we do not show that opposition to it is strong, there will be 4 more years of regular executions. This campaign of Mike Strimling for Governor offers Democrats a chance to vote against State killings and for clemency.
Position Paper 3
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