“To the many excellent reasons to abolish the death penalty — it’s immoral, does not deter murder and affects minorities disproportionately — we can add one more. It’s an economic drain on governments with already badly depleted budgets.”

This is the opening line from a New York Times editorial from 2009 titled “High cost of death row.”

This week Governor Susana Martinez once again showed how out of touch with reality she by simultaneously calling for a special session of the legislature to fix the projected $150 million budget shortfall within hours of also calling for the reinstatement of the death penalty in New Mexico. Wait, what?

The death penalty is scary expensive to maintain in every state where it does still exist. It’s incomprehensible that the “worst run state” (yes, that’s NM under Martinez) in the union could fund an unneeded, unusable, and archaic practice like the death penalty.

New Mexico’s legislature had the good sense to end the practice in 2009 earning Gov. Richardson and legislative leaders and criminal justice reformers behind the effort an audience with the Pope in Rome.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson greets Pope Benedict XVI today in St. Peter's Square. (CNS/Reuters)
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson greets Pope Benedict XVI today in St. Peter’s Square. (CNS/Reuters)

The practice of the death penalty has been a plague on this society for decades. Our inhumane policies have played out not just in our courtrooms, but on the international stage of public opinion. Monday marks the 89th anniversary of the execution of Italian immigrants Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. Arrested and convicted of being anarchists, the truth is they were immigrants;  marked for death based on conflicting reports and bad policing.

In New Mexico, Ron Keine and three other men traveling the country found themselves arrested, convicted and sentenced to death in New Mexico 40 years ago.  On the eve of their execution, a witness came forward with evidence that set them free.

17 more innocent men have been freed from death row by DNA evidence since the 1990s.

And like Sacco and Vanzetti, outsiders, the poorest, and most persecuted people in our society often find themselves at risk for execution first.

Today, people of color make up the majority of inmates in New Mexico jails and prisons and a new study shows that New Mexico spends almost five times more per year per inmate than we do per student.

New Mexico budget priorities
New Mexico budget priorities

A report by ProgressNow New Mexico earlier this year found that private prisons in the state had dumped more than $50,000 into a Super-PAC which was later found guilty of creating attack ads against Democrats based on votes the legislators under attack never took.

But those attack ads helped to secure a new Republican majority in the State House and they introduced more than two-dozen bills to increase incarceration in prisons in return.

And they tried to pay for those increased prison costs, by cutting proposals to eliminate the rape kit backlog and by curtailing new funding to hire police officers and sheriff’s deputies statewide.

Read More: ProgressNow NM reports on the spread of the private prison industry in New Mexico
NM posts record prison profits ahead of new GOP push for more incarceration | 
Ahead of GOP’s ‘more prisons’ agenda, private prison helped fund negative ads against Dems | 
New Report: Mo money for prisons means no money for schools | 

Rather than develop civic programs and planning to offer alternatives to life (and death) in the criminal justice system, it seems Governor Martinez seeks to capitalize on mass incarceration instead. Who pays the price for the prison industrial complex? Ordinary taxpayers do.

 

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People of color are way over represented in New Mexico prisons. What other conclusion can be drawn other than they will also be overrepresented on death row?

 

So while the citizen legislators of New Mexico must travel to Santa Fe again sometime next month to figure out how to pay for things like public education and roads, they’ll be doing so knowing that come January there will be bills on the floor calling for reinstating the death penalty, too.

As a former district attorney and a Republican hardliner it’s not a stretch that Martinez wants to reinstate capital punishment. The news of such a controversial proposal helped the governor avoid comment on new news this week that the state is now third in the country for unemployment and news that she has spent more than $26,000 of public tax dollars on out-of-state travel to fundraisers and Republican galas.

Despite study upon study that show the death penalty does little to nothing to deter crime, she persists and reporters have rightly called it out for the political opportunistic agenda that it is.

 

The New York Times article about capital punishment from 2009 also talked about the failing of capital punishment across the US and urged lawmakers around the country to do away with it. The end of that article will fit here nicely too:

“If lawmakers cannot find the moral courage to abolish the death penalty, perhaps the economic case will persuade them to follow the lead of New Mexico.”

Now we march backwards towards the 20th Century.

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