DALLAS — Stuck in the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, a bill to repeal the death penalty will not be called for a hearing in this session of the Texas Legislature. The proponents of this legislation would like for there to be a dialogue on the issue. There are concerns about the cost, arbitrariness and effectiveness of using the death penalty in Texas as Maryland becomes the 18th state to ban this controversial practice.
In the years 1990-1999, the prison population in Texas has doubled. “Serious” assaults on prison staff have risen from 96 from 72 in 2012 from 2010. Eleven deaths last year were attributed to other convicts. The last time an officer was killed was 2007. Evidence suggests that violence is down.
The state of Texas argues that the safety of inmates and staff hang in the balance and it is impossible to protect them. Some argue, however, that the real problem is the state not hiring enough officers and failing to pay them enough to compete in the marketplace. The state is offering financial incentives to lure potential guards from the oil services marketplace, the chief competitor to prison employment. A $3,000 bonus is provided to serve as incentive. A five percent pay increase for corrections officers is in the budget resulting in a cost to taxpayers of $105.2 million.
“We’re never going to be able to compete financially with the private sector,” criminal justice spokesman John Hurt said to the Texas Tribune.
Kristin Houle of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty says the system is fatally flawed and the reasons given to sustain it just don’t add up. “It is only the most extreme views” that justify keeping the death penalty because of the need to protect staff and other prisoners. “There is no end to the ideas and ways” staff and other convicts can be protected. The roughly $800,000 spent to incarcerate a prisoner for the 40 years in maximum versus the $2.35 million spent during a death penalty case is a core discussion. The extra costs occur during the appeal process on both the state and representative side.
Critics say the process is arbitrary. It has to do with manpower and resources as much as anything. Cases are tried when they can be and at as little cost to the state as possible.
As for the death penalty serving as deterrence to crime, no one seriously argues this point anymore. The debate on the death penalty will not take place this year.