OADP's 2010 Year-End Letter

Dear Friend of OADP,
I write today to ask you to consider with me three facts and one important question:
Fact:  There are now 34 men in the state penitentiary waiting to be put to death by the State of Oregon.
Fact:  You and I and our fellow citizens are the State of Oregon.  In Lincoln’s famous words, our government is “of the people, by the people, for the people.”  Whether we like it or not, that makes us their executioners.
Fact:  These 34 men pose no danger to law-abiding Oregonians.  Whether executed or not, they will never leave the penitentiary alive.
Question:  Why, then, do we spend millions of dollars annually in an effort to hasten their deaths by a few years –and in the end, to become, like them, takers of life?
I believe you understand these facts.  And I expect, if you’re like me, you take this question personally.
Most Oregonians don’t understand the facts.  They think that without the death penalty, those convicted of intentional homicide will be back on the streets in a few years.  That was true in 1914, when Oregon first repealed its death penalty, and it’s the reason voters reinstated it in 1920.  It was true in 1964, when we again voted for repeal, and it is the reason our citizens again restored it in 1984. 
It’s not true now.  Under Oregon law, the statutory penalty for aggravated murder is life in prison with no possibility of parole ever, unless the jury recommends death, or at least 10 jurors agree to the possibility of parole after a minimum prison term of 30 years.  Those are the only options.
The death penalty may have made Oregonians safer 50 or 100 years ago, but it doesn’t today.
So if it doesn’t make us safer, what other benefit does the death penalty provide to justify its huge financial cost to taxpayers?
Does it deter violent crime?  No—decades of social science research have failed to establish any correlation between use of the death penalty and the homicide rate in the U.S.   In fact, the 15 U.S. states that do not have the death penalty have, in the aggregate, a much lower murder rate than the 35 states that do have the death penalty.
Does it bring solace, comfort or healing to our fellow citizens who have lost loved ones to murder?  Ask our Advisory Council members Gus and Audrey Lamm, or Board member Aba Gayle, who have themselves suffered this trauma.  They’ll tell you it does none of these things.  It just prolongs the suffering of homicide survivors, forcing them to relive the agony at every step in the long legal march toward a possible execution.  And in its vengeful ugliness, it does nothing to honor the memory of their departed loved ones.
What does it do to the corrections officers in our prisons who have to carry out the state-mandated killing?  There are many instances of serious harm to their mental health.  How could it not be traumatic to them as well?
How about the families of the executed?  Every execution creates a whole other set of victims—innocent fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, siblings, already traumatized by the murderous act committed by their family member, often ostracized by their communities, grieving their personal loss and having to bear society’s judgment that their loved one had no worth and was beyond any possible redemption.
In short, the death penalty benefits no one.   Rather, it hurts everyone it touches.
So back to our original question: 
If the death penalty provides no substantial benefits…
If it hurts everyone it touches…
Why do we spend millions of dollars annually to hasten the deaths of a few convicted murderers by a few short years –and in the end, to become like them—takers of life?
The conventional response of death penalty supporters is that it is necessary to express the moral outrage of the community.  Well, outrage at brutal, senseless, intentional murder is understandable and justified, and we feel it as fully and as viscerally as anyone.  But mankind, with the gift of reason, has the ability to think before acting, and to consider in advance the likely results of a particular action.  If by using the death penalty we send the message that violence is an appropriate and moral response to violent acts, do we really expect that this will result in a more peaceful, less violent society? 
We can and must protect ourselves from those who would do us violence.  And we can do that by incarcerating them for life or until they are too old and feeble to constitute a real threat.
But if we are smart, we will do more than just respond to violence after it has occurred.  We will take the millions of dollars saved by repealing the death penalty and invest them judiciously in supporting victims of crime and in public health measures and crime prevention programs and education that help adults and children learn to curb violent impulses and discover the satisfaction of being contributing members of healthy, prosperous, engaged communities.
Programs such as the following…

• Counseling and compensation for the surviving family members of homicide victims.
• Cold case units to investigate and bring to justice the perpetrators of unsolved murder cases.
• Counseling and support groups to reduce child abuse and enhance parenting skills.
• Domestic violence prevention and protection programs.
• Drug courts and substance abuse treatment programs.
• Mental health courts and community-based mental health treatment programs.
• Restorative justice programs such as victim-offender mediation and facilitated dialogue.
• Early childhood education programs.
• Offender re-entry support programs.
These are the alternative uses of our tax dollars that OADP supports.  Will they eliminate crime and end violence in our society?  Of course not—but they will certainly be more effective than wasting millions of dollars trying to execute a few offenders who no longer pose any threat to us.
Millions of dollars?  Yes.  It may seem counter-intuitive, but it costs far, far more to pursue, impose and administer the death penalty in a given case than it would to convict the perpetrator and incarcerate him for the rest of his natural life.
Here’s why:  The United States Supreme Court has told us, appropriately, that “death is different,” and that heightened due process standards must be followed where the state seeks to take an offender’s life.  In every state in which a careful assessment of the cost of the death penalty system has been made, the result has been that it costs several times as much as convicting murderers and confining them in prison for the rest of their lives. 
OADP is currently pursuing such an assessment for our state and will make the information widely available to Oregonians and their legislators.  For starters, we know that providing defense lawyers to capital defendants for the current biennium will cost $25.9 million.  In addition, there are higher costs for the prosecutors, for investigators and expert witnesses on both sides, for the court system, for 10-20 or more years of appeals, plus the higher prison cost of maintaining a separate death row, and on and on.
So…the answer to why we spend so much on a failed, ineffective death penalty is that Oregonians on the whole simply don’t know the facts.  Since we have not had an execution in Oregon since 1997, most just don’t think much about the death penalty at all.  They pay their taxes, listen to politicians who compete with each other to be the toughest on crime, and assume that the death penalty is a necessary part of keeping our homes and streets safe. 
They are unaware that the death penalty does little or nothing to deter violent crime.  They don’t know how it hurts surviving family members of murder victims, or the innocent family members of the executed inmate, or the corrections personnel who are called on to perform the scripted, ritualized killing.
And most just don’t understand how much it diminishes us.    Because the death penalty is really not about them, the offenders…it’s about us, and what kind of a society we want to be.

OADP’s stated mission is…
 “To repeal the death penalty in Oregon as an essential step toward a more cost-effective, humane and restorative response to violent crime, and thus toward safer, more peaceful and just communities.”

To accomplish this mission, we need your help.
1) We need your voice.  If your name is not currently on our website as a supporter of repeal, please go to the members page of www.oadp.org, and post your name to let your fellow citizens know that you have a vision for a more just, humane and peaceful Oregon.  Tell your friends that you are proud of your association with this movement, and invite them to join you in taking this stand.
2) We need active volunteers.  We will soon put up a page on our website where you can volunteer to assist with office activities or join one of our committees.  If you’re ready to act now, call our office phone at 503-990-7060 and we’ll get you started.
3) We need your financial support.  Whether you can give $5 or $500, we’ll be most grateful for any gift that fits your budget.

During the past year, we have made extraordinary progress.  Our membership of about 200 at the beginning of the year is approaching 1000.  The number of organizational supporters has grown from about 12 to over 45.  We have developed an Advisory Council of approximately 70 members including leaders in public health, education, the clergy, criminal, civil and governmental law, nonprofit administration, public relations and corrections.  We have added several new Board members who bring professional expertise and fresh energy to our mission.
In addition, we have set a goal to place a ballot measure to repeal the death penalty before the people by 2014, and developed a strategic plan that we think will get us there with a good chance of passage.  Our objectives include a membership of 4000 individuals and 150 organizations within two years, with representatives in 75 communities and on 30 college campuses around the state.  We are currently developing the technological infrastructure to organize our volunteer, event-management, fundraising and mass communications systems, and we are working to enhance our ability to make use of both traditional and new social media. 
Currently, we are an all-volunteer organization.  In order to achieve the ambitious objectives set out in our plan, we need to move to the next level by hiring full-time professional staff.  With your support, we intend to hire an executive director and an office manager early in 2011 to continue and accelerate our progress.

This is not just about saving the lives of 34 men in our state who have made terrible, lethal errors.  It’s about who we are as a citizenry and what vision of the future we hold for ourselves and our children.  Whether we are Democrats or Republicans or independents, whether we live in Pendleton or Portland, Brookings or Bend, Ashland or Astoria, we can agree that violent crime saps the energy we need to build thriving, economically viable communities.  Rather than perpetuating violence, we must renounce it and invest in alternatives that move us toward the goal of a safe, peaceful and just society.

Please join with us in the fulfillment of our mission by taking the steps outlined above and especially by clicking here to make a generous donation today.

With sincere wishes for a peaceful and blessed holiday season,                       
            Ron
 Ron Steiner, OADP Board Chair

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