South Dakotans for 
Alternatives to the Death Penalty
Prison Safety
In the wake of the horrific murder of correctional officer Ronald "R.J." Johnson by two inmates, many have said that executions would make the prison safer. SDADP disputes that. The threat of execution obviously did not prevent this crime. In fact, as Eric Robert and Rodney Berget both requested the death penalty, the prospect of execution seems to have been more a way out for these two prisoners than an effective deterrent. 

If they were properly monitored in prison, Robert and Berget would be unable to commit another crime. While they are on death row, these two individuals will be kept from hurting another person. There is no reason the security measures that are in place to prevent Robert and Berget from assaulting anyone cannot be continued indefinitely.

If you look at the nation as a whole, this crime was an aberration. Multiple studies that have been completed since capital punishment was reinstated show that prisoners sentenced to life without parole do not pose any more threat to other prisoners or corrections personnel than do inmates in the general population, and in most cases “lifers” perpetrate fewer crimes in prison than those eligible for parole.

Between 2001 and 2007, states with the death penalty had considerably higher prison murder rates on average (4.25/100,000, with four of 38 states reporting no prison homicides in that time period) than those states without the death penalty (.92/100,000, with 7 of 12 states reporting no prison homicides).
--Data from Bureau of Justice statistics

Quotes concerning the death penalty's impact on prison crime:
"The death penalty is not needed to increase prison safety. Prisons have a system in place that can provide incentives for good behavior and effective punishments, such as long-term solitary confinement, that can prevent inmate violence. From my experience, with proper monitoring and safety precautions, any inmate violence can be stopped before the prisoner has a chance to hurt anyone."
--Travis Schulze, former correctional officer and current coordinator for SDADP

"I've been in this system for over 40 years. I’ve been held hostage and been through multiple prison riots. If someone told me that the death penalty would protect me as a corrections officer, I would be offended. Safety inside prisons depends on proper staffing, programming, and effective reintegration of inmates back into society. The death penalty does not safeguard anybody."
--Calvin Lightfoot, former corrections officer, warden, and Secretary of Public Safety and Correctional Services for the state of Maryland

"A well-managed prison with proper classification and staffing can create incentives for lifers to behave while segregating and punishing those who are a threat before violence ever occurs. Our prison system already knows how to do this. The reality is that the death penalty is not, and never has been, a deterrent. Prison safety depends on proper staffing, equipment, resources and training. Certainly the money spent on trying to put someone to death for over 20 years could find better use in addressing those practical needs of our correctional system."
--John Connor, former chief special prosecutor for the state of Montana for 21 years. He prosecuted five death penalty cases involving prison homicides

Click here for more details on the death penalty and prison crime.
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