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PAGE TITLE: The Concord Monitor
ARTICLE TITLE: Support for death penalty is strong
AUTHOR: James M. Reams
AUTHOR INFORMATION: James M. Reams became the county attorney in Rockingham County, New Hampshire, in 1998. He heads an office of 19 attorneys who prosecute felonies and who serve as counsel in three district courts in Rockingham County. He has oversight responsibility for the police departments in 37 towns. Reams describes his jurisdiction as “wealthy and rural, but moving toward suburban.” With a population of approximately 300,000, it is one of the fastest growing counties in the nation.
DATE: Thursday 6 January 2011
|James M. Reams|
As a member of the majority of the Commission to Study the Death Penalty in New Hampshire, I would like to rebut the information provided by Barbara Keshen in her Dec. 31 Monitor column, "On death penalty, state bucks the trend."
The anti-death penalty coalition asserts time and time again that public support for the death penalty in America and the world is declining. In fact, there is no indication that public support is waning. When faced with an actual execution, the public has overwhelmingly supported the application of the death penalty. The proof? Public opinion polls following the execution of Timothy McVeigh for blowing up more than 160 men, women and children in a terrorist act in Oklahoma showed an over 80 percent approval rating for the execution. Further proof? If Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001 was to be executed, the approval ratings for that execution would be at least as high as the McVeigh figures.
As noted in the American Law Institute's "Report of the Council to the Membership of the American Law Institute on the Matter of the Death Penalty," dated April 15, 2009, "Popular political support for the death penalty appears to remain relatively high, with opinion polls reporting stable majorities (about 70 percent)."
And in a recent report published by the Council for European Studies at Columbia University, Andrew Moravcsik writes that 65 to 70 percent of Britons, a majority of Austrians, around 50 percent of Italians and 49 percent of Swedes favor its reinstatement. The death penalty retains popular approval in Europe when polling is done, as it does in Japan, India and other non-western democracies.
The anti-death penalty lobby also asserts that the death penalty is too expensive to administer. The figures presented to the commission by the Judicial Council, the attorney general's office and the courts were valid attempts to comply with commission requests but were hampered by complications that undermined an accurate understanding of the costs of the recent capital murder trials and the expected costs of substituting life-without-parole sentences for the death penalty in cases of capital murder.
For example, the attorney general's office is challenged when providing figures about the costs of litigating the two recent death penalty cases. In the Brooks case, the defendant was a retired multi-millionaire with virtually unlimited resources to pour into his defense. It was also complicated by the fact that multiple trips had to be made to Las Vegas, the defendant's home, to interview, depose and prepare witness for both the guilt phase and the penalty phase of the trial.
In State v. Addison, the attorney general's office assisted the Hillsborough County attorney in the preparation and trial of the underlying armed robberies cases, which became factors in the death penalty case. In a bid to be entirely transparent and complete, the attorney general included all costs associated with Addison case. Thus, the Addison figures overstate the actual costs of the death penalty trial.
The costs of incarceration for life in prison are equally challenged because of the limited information available. The Department of Corrections indicated the average length of incarceration of an inmate serving a life without parole sentence is 16.4 years. If the costs of incarceration of inmates are averaged across the system, the cost comes to approximately $33,100 per year. The costs associated with housing inmates in the Secured Housing Unit, where Michael Addison is housed, are higher because of the nature of confinement and the increased security in that unit.
Additionally, when talking about costs, the Department of Corrections uses an average cost of housing an inmate in New Hampshire prisons, which takes the total costs of the system and divides those costs by the number of inmates. This method skews the actual costs of life sentences downward. Clearly, it is more expensive to house an inmate sentenced to life without parole than an inmate serving three to six years, the average sentence in the state prison.
It is axiomatic that the prisoners who are serving life without parole have much higher total costs, such as medical costs associated with geriatric care, medical care for chronic health issues and end-of-life care. It is well documented that most Americans spend most of their lifetime health-care dollars during their end-of-life phase. There is no reason to doubt that the lifetime costs of average life-without-parole sentences will be higher than average costs of persons serving shorter sentences.
Since there is little data about the real cost of a life-without-parole sentence, the commission reached only general conclusions based upon general facts about end-of-life issues. Faced with lower that actual incarceration costs and higher than average prosecution costs, the commission settled for the proposition that while the cost of death penalty prosecutions is higher, no realistic precise figures could be ascertained.
(Jim Reams is the Rockingham County attorney.)
Commission member and Rockingham County Attorney Jim Reams told the Concord Monitor that a reason to retain the death penalty is the limitation of the law.
He described New Hampshire's statutes as "much more protective" than those in other death penalty states.
Reams also said he believes the death penalty has a deterrent effect, referring to a story the commission heard from Peter Heed, the Cheshire County attorney. According to Reams, Heed told the commission that when he was a criminal defense lawyer, a client said he didn't kill a police officer because he knew he could face the death penalty.
"There's a police officer probably alive today who doesn't even know he was saved by the fact that we had a death penalty," Reams said.