I was “late to the party” in opposing capital punishment. For most progressives that is a basic tenet of the political philosophy. It was only about ten years ago that I changed my viewpoint on the topic. As we continue I will explain my final reservation and then share a recent revelation that vexed me.
The biggest thing that held me back was empathy for the corrections officer (CO) who had to supervise convicted murderers serving life without the possibility of parole. The CO often is among the prison population without a weapon. Unlike a police officer the CO does not carry a gun (for good reason). In the rare cases they are armed it is most often with a baton or pepper spray. I had to ask myself if I was willing to spend 40 hours a week for years outnumbered by convicted murderers who literally had nothing to lose “armed” like that. The answer was a resounding “No”.
The only legal repercussion of killing a CO was solitary confinement or losing privileges. Getting locked away by yourself or not being able to watch your favorite TV show is a small price to pay for killing someone if you are already incarcerated for the rest of your natural life. I certainly can’t condone the “illegal punishments” CO’s might decide to impose.
In any event several other factors made me change my position on capital punishment. Chief among them were the racial and social-economic inequity in the imposition of the death sentence along with the irreversibility of execution. That is all a subject for another day.
The Washington Post recently ran a couple of articles outlining the current situation with CO’s in federal prisons. Federal CO’s are unionized which in the age of Trump and Republican control makes them targets. The current CO to inmate ratio is 8.3:1. (In full disclosure the high point was in 2013 at 10:1.) The government likes to tout the inmate to staff ration which is 4.4:1. About 25 years ago it was 3:1. To me the inmate to staff ratio is irrelevant when it comes to security. Can you really equate a trained CO to a cook or janitor? The kill the union campaign started under Ronald Reagan is still part of Republican orthodoxy. Federal CO’s are members of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE).
Trump is carrying on the tradition. His 2018 budget called for reducing the ranks of federal CO’s by 6,132. The 2019 edition calls for 1,168 positions to be cut. I know that police and CO’s do not have the best relationship, but CO’s are still part of law enforcement. They are the first responders in a federal prison. What happened to Trump’s big commitment to our law enforcement and first responders? I contend that it was just another in his series of lies.
The true goal of the Republicans is to eliminate government owned and run prisons. They want to privatize them. The private prisons have less oversight and fewer regulations. They can also insist on non-union employees who have lower pay, more dangerous working conditions and fewer protections. The corporation who receive the lucrative government contracts can make generous political donations to Republicans. Less union workers equal fewer volunteers and donations to Democrats.
It’s all about the money in politics. The Republicans neither care about the inmates nor those charged with keeping order in the prisons. For years I was willing to execute people in order to keep CO’s safer. Trump and his tribe are willing to let them die if it translates into political donations and profits for their financiers not to mention possible graft.
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