Thread: GOP Wins Again
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Old 08-19-2013, 08:35 PM   #7
El Minion
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David R. Dow: Lessons from death row inmates

An excerpt:

My client Will and 80 percent of the people on death row had five chapters in their lives that came before the four chapters of the death penalty story. I think of these five chapters as points of intervention, places in their lives when our society could've intervened in their lives and nudged them off of the path that they were on that created a consequence that we all -- death penalty supporters or death penalty opponents -- say was a bad result.

Now, during each of these five chapters: when his mother was pregnant with him; in his early childhood years; when he was in elementary school; when he was in middle school and then high school; and when he was in the juvenile justice system -- during each of those five chapters, there were a wide variety of things that society could have done. In fact, if we just imagine that there are five different modes of intervention, the way that society could intervene in each of those five chapters, and we could mix and match them any way we want, there are 3,000 -- more than 3,000 -- possible strategies that we could embrace in order to nudge kids like Will off of the path that they're on.

So I'm not standing here today with the solution. But the fact that we still have a lot to learn, that doesn't mean that we don't know a lot already. We know from experience in other states that there are a wide variety of modes of intervention that we could be using in Texas, and in every other state that isn't using them, in order to prevent a consequence that we all agree is bad.

I'll just mention a few. I won't talk today about reforming the legal system. That's probably a topic that is best reserved for a room full of lawyers and judges. Instead, let me talk about a couple of modes of intervention that we can all help accomplish, because they are modes of intervention that will come about when legislators and policymakers, when taxpayers and citizens, agree that that's what we ought to be doing and that's how we ought to be spending our money.

We could be providing early childhood care for economically disadvantaged and otherwise troubled kids, and we could be doing it for free. And we could be nudging kids like Will off of the path that we're on. There are other states that do that, but we don't.

We could be providing special schools, at both the high school level and the middle school level, but even in K-5, that target economically and otherwise disadvantaged kids, and particularly kids who have had exposure to the juvenile justice system. There are a handful of states that do that; Texas doesn't.

There's one other thing we can be doing -- well, there are a bunch of other things that we could be doing -- there's one other thing that we could be doing that I'm going to mention, and this is gonna be the only controversial thing that I say today. We could be intervening much more aggressively into dangerously dysfunctional homes, and getting kids out of them before their moms pick up butcher knives and threaten to kill them. If we're gonna do that, we need a place to put them.

Even if we do all of those things, some kids are going to fall through the cracks and they're going to end up in that last chapter before the murder story begins, they're going to end up in the juvenile justice system. And even if that happens, it's not yet too late. There's still time to nudge them, if we think about nudging them rather than just punishing them.

There are two professors in the Northeast -- one at Yale and one at Maryland -- they set up a school that is attached to a juvenile prison. And the kids are in prison, but they go to school from eight in the morning until four in the afternoon. Now, it was logistically difficult. They had to recruit teachers who wanted to teach inside a prison, they had to establish strict separation between the people who work at the school and the prison authorities, and most dauntingly of all, they needed to invent a new curriculum because you know what? People don't come into and out of prison on a semester basis. But they did all those things.

Now what do all of these things have in common? What all of these things have in common is that they cost money. Some of the people in the room might be old enough to remember the guy on the old oil filter commercial. He used to say, "Well, you can pay me now or you can pay me later." What we're doing in the death penalty system is we're paying later.

But the thing is that for every 15,000 dollars that we spend intervening in the lives of economically and otherwise disadvantaged kids in those earlier chapters, we save 80,000 dollars in crime-related costs down the road. Even if you don't agree that there's a moral imperative that we do it, it just makes economic sense.
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