Support Education And Not Death Row
By James Conway, Prisonersolidarity.org
April 14, 2007
I received the flyer you sent me concerning the proposed referendum to end the death penalty in Ohio. I'm sure I speak for everyone on death row when I say we appreciate everything that everyone does for us in all the anti-death penalty activist groups. The thought that all these different people who have never met me are out there pulling for me is very comforting. I agree, though, that it would probably be more productive if everyone pulled in the same direction. The referendum you suggested sounds like a step in the right direction to me, and I am writing you to make a suggestion that I believe would improve the chances of the referendum passing. I'm sure you would agree that failure of such a referendum would deal an almost fatal blow to the struggle to end the death penalty in Ohio, at least for the immediate future. In my imagination I can see the headline, "The People of Ohio have Spoken."
The idea I have is somewhat based on a referendum I saw advertised during the last election. The referendum was set up to try and dedicate a larger percentage of the lottery money to the public schools by removing some of the power of the legislature to do other things with the money. My suggestion involves reallocating the tax dollars spent on the death penalty directly to fund a scholarship program for low income Ohioans, which would do more to reduce the crime rate than the death penalty has ever done. Ending the death penalty would instantly free up a significant amount of public funds. The Ohio public defenders office has a death penalty section as does the attorney general's office. The individual counties get money also.
I know it will be impossible to find all the resources the death penalty consumes each year, but I bet a diligent person (or group of people) could show that a few million in government funds would be freed up every year if the death penalty were ended. This money could be taken directly from its purpose in carrying out the death penalty and used to create a scholarship program for low income Ohioans. I've read that estimates are in the range of $1 million to $2 million total to execute a single inmate over the course of the entire appellate process, and that figure was above and beyond what it costs to house the inmate for the 20 years the process takes. That was also said to be a very conservative estimate. Those figures may be way off, but for argument's sake, let's just say that the state spends $5 million a year directly on the death penalty that would be freed up if the death penalty were ended. The average degree program being under $50,000, that means every year 100 low income Ohioans could receive a full ride to a four-year degree program. Essentially: the referendum shouldn't be against the death penalty, it would be for education.
Admittedly, I know little about origin: referendums or about the breakdown of how tax dollars are dedicated to the death penalty. But I do know that a death penalty case is inordinately expensive. Death penalty defendants receive two lawyers who get $25,000 each: and an aggravated murder defendant receives a single lawyer who gets about $10,000. On direct appeal, death sentenced inmates receive two lawyers again, while all others receive one. Two lawyers are also assigned to do post-conviction appeals at the same time, and no lawyers are required to be assigned to persons not sentenced to death. That 540,000 at trial and the three extra lawyers employed for about 3 years (just on state appeals) translates into a lot of moneys, and that is only a small fraction of what is actually spent. Death penalty trials are twice as long as normal trials, and for every lawyer representing the defendant/prisoner there is an adversary representing the state on the other side.
This is also the perfect time to present such a referendum. News story after news story talks about how the United States is fallen behind in education, we now have less engineers, scientists and generally less college graduates than many developing countries. Besides that, one of the main purposes of Governor Strickland's proposed budget was to try and keep college tuition from increases at all this year and only 3% next year to try and increase the number of people who can afford to go to college.
In short, I think there will be strong opposition to a referendum to end the death penalty in Ohio. But if the choice is between the death penalty and 50 or 100 college scholarships every year I think there will be significantly less opposition even from those like Governor Strickland who purport to be for the death penalty. Let's face facts, there are quite a few people that will support the death penalty on moral grounds regardless of how immoral we believe it is. With a referendum such as the one I propose they will lose whatever moral footing they have. As Governor Strickland himself said in the State of the State address, Ohioans have to make some tough choices and some sacrifices so that Ohio can be at the economic forefront of the country, as it has been for the last 100 years. Let's make the death penalty one of those sacrifices.
I hope this idea is of some use to you. I wish I could do more to try and implement something like this because I think it could really make the difference, but I could not even begin to know where to start.
I hope that you do you.
James Conway, # 457-203
Ohio State Penitentiary
878 Coitsville-Hubbard Road
Youngstown, OH 44505-4635
Read another response by a man on death row:
Alva E. Campbell, Letter in Support of a Referendum
Here's the original letter.
The following link offers tips for writing to prisoners: https://prisonersolidarity.org/TipsForWritingPrisoners.htm