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California's Cash Cow Prison System and the Money-Sucking Death Penalty that fixes nothing Printer friendly page Print This
By Leslie Johnson
Wednesday, Aug 8, 2018

A financial look at our prison system, especially the death penalty.


Many years ago, I did extensive reading and research on the Death Penalty, precisely its cost and ramifications on the family members of victims in California. Presently in CA, and my DP research in FL, I have found researching facts again a bit challenging... but here goes.

In 1972, California ended the death penalty, but months later reinstated it... since then there have been 13 executions, the last one being in 2006... As of 8/2017, there are 747 inmates on Death Row in San Quentin. That requires a lot of guards. And a ton of moolah.

In California, the State Correctional Officer must be at least 21 and have a HS diploma or a GED, know how to use a gun, and how to control and instruct inmates. Their salary range is $36,000-$73,728. Not bad for a high school grad.

Inmates on San Quentin's Death Row are allowed appeals, subject to the court receiving a good-enough reason, every 7 years, and the victim families are notified and invited to attend. I view that as just more salt to a wound that never heals. And, of course, the attorney fees are not cheap and they're paid by taxpayers. Know what else? Every appeal has to be applied for and attorneys wait until just before the 7-year time limit is reached... effectively 'buying' more time. Not that they need to since executions are not performed that often.

From the Death Penalty Information Center: "Cases without the death penalty cost $740,000, while cases where the death penalty is sought cost $1.26 million. Maintaining each death row prisoner costs taxpayers $90,000 more per year than a prisoner in general population. What's 747x90,000... hmm... $67,230,000.

Appeals for the last 2 executed prisoners cost $1.76 million dollars and did not include the state's expenses in defending the convictions, the trial costs or extra costs attributed to death-row incarceration. Why Californians consistently vote for the Death Penalty is beyond me.

A 6/17 article in the LA times heads with "At $75,560, housing a prisoner in California now costs more that a year at Harvard".

Several years ago I was collecting signatures in CA to abolish the Death Penalty and was shocked at how many people did not want to sign.

So why in the world did I get a burr under my saddle to share all this info?

Because I'm not sure our citizenry is cognizant of all this. One of the petition "non-signers" I encountered said "kill 'em all!" They aren't real aware of just how long that takes, how much money that takes, and how much additional anguish for family members.

Plus, it will fix nothing. A murdered family member is physically 'gone'. I cannot imagine, after the perp's execution, a family member saying, "oh good, now I feel better." Won't happen.

So my daughter, Joie Armstrong, was the fourth victim of Cary Staynor, the perpetrator of the Yosemite Murders in 1999.

I was contacted by a Mennonite woman shortly after her death, who wanted to know what I thought of the death penalty. Well, I'd never given it much thought and she helped/suggested that I do so.

I did. And then lightly pressured my family members to agree to request a Life with no Chance of Release outcome with no court case regarding guilt or not. He had already confessed. We wrote Janet Reno in DC regarding that and since Joie had been killed on federal land, making it a federal Case. She said "ok".

We never had to go to court, save one 'hearing'. We were spared a court trial and the rehashing of the horror... who would want to be put through all of that. The damage was done and permanent and not fixable. It was over and done and we would not be notified every 7 years thereafter should there be some reason his attorney could come up with that the court would approve.

And California was saved millions of dollars. Before we had even a preliminary hearing, the attorney told me the state had already spent over $4 million dollars. The death penalty is "big bucks".

The families of the 3 tourists that he had also killed sought the Death Penalty and I saw them several years later. They had really 'aged', white-haired and very weary looking. Their remark to me was "you did the right thing". Plus they had waited over 2 years for their day in court. Our case was worked on first and theirs couldn't start until ours was "over". The perp is on Death Row to this day, and has been there now 17 or 18 years.

A Memorial Park in Sonoma County donated a plot (for 4) next to a water feature, under a tree, and next to the gravesite of Charles Schultz. My Counselor, after this ordeal, once said, "Well, Charlie Brown now has his "little red-haired girl". That did put a smile on my face.

Since I still haven't figured out how to add images, you can google "Joie Armstrong" and see her red hair. ;)

Joie Armstrong

Additionally, $300,000 was donated to Yosemite National Institute, renamed now to NatureBridge, after her death. Her peer instructors (she was an outdoor educator) got together and organized a program called "Armstrong Scholars" where 13 girls are selected each year to traverse the Yosemite outback. Many have never had a backpack on in their life. They learn survival skills, get challenged beyond anything physical they've done in their past and arrive back with a new sense of power and ability they never knew they had. Over 200 young women have now been influenced by her. Several have become outdoor educators themselves.

I am in California now as the Scholars returned last week. There is a dinner and a campfire upon their return where they share their experience and what they've learned. I consider myself very fortunate as every year I'm given the 'gift' of her. All things considered, I'm very, very lucky.

And very, very anti-death penalty. Attorneys love the money, prisons love the money, and the victim families have to relive the tragedy.

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