Nebraska Senator Bob Krist Explains Why He Said “No” to the Death Penalty

The death penalty has for years been a polarizing issue in the United States. Proponents and opponents alike have strong opinions and strong emotional responses to the issue. In May, 2015, the Nebraska legislature overrode a governor’s veto to abolish the death penalty in that state. One of the unusual aspects of this occurrence is that a conservative legislature overrode the veto of a Republican governor to eliminate the death penalty.

Senator Bob Krist

Senator Bob Krist

One of those voting to repeal the death penalty was Senator Bob Krist. In a recent opinion piece in the Omaha World-Herald, Krist explained his concerns about the death penalty Krist explains his position in this report. [Note: In his op-ed piece, Senator Krist refers to information from the Death Penalty Information Center as to the cost of carrying out executions.

Krist explains that he reached his decision on the death penalty issue based on hearing six years of data about it. Among the things that came to light are the considerable expenses of any death penalty case, from the decision to seek the penalty to the actual carrying out of it. He now supports a sentence of life without parole instead of death. “Civilized society does not need the death penalty.”

In Krist’s op-ed piece he notes that “[m]ore than 15 states have done cost studies on the death penalty.” He notes that all of them concluded that the death penalty was more expensive than life imprisonment. Krist thinks the evidence is compelling for someone who analyzes the issue on the basis of cost, and he believes other states will come to see the logic of Nebraska’s position. Of course, people who are seeking vengeance will be unlikely to consider the cost to the public.

Another aspect of carrying out the death penalty is the long string of cases challenging the way in which the penalty is carried out, in particular lethal injection. A number of states have struggled to find a lethal drug solution that would pass muster with the Supreme Court. Even if states tried to go back to the electric chair, the gas chamber, hanging, or the firing squad, there would probably continue to be challenges and problems. Krist does not believe that there will be a completely acceptable solution in his lifetime.

As to ways to reduce the expense of carrying out the death penalty, the only thing that would reduce those expenses would be to change the appeals process. Of course, there is already an extensive appeals process for all felony convictions. One important reason for all those appeals is that errors in the trial process are found. Occasionally, innocent people have been put to death. Given all of the problems that have occurred with faulty convictions, Krist says, it is difficult to draw a line after which appeals would not be allowed.

Voters in Nebraska may have the opportunity to vote on the death penalty. Krist says he supports letting the voters consider the issue. He believes that the majority of voters would support what the legislature has done.

Senator Bob Krist represents the 10th district in the Nebraska legislature. He served 21 years in the Air Force, retiring as a lieutenant colonel. He held key leadership positions directing critical missions including the high-visibility Looking Glass mission at Offutt Air Force Base. He was appointed to fill a legislative vacancy in 2009 and won his election to the office in 2010. His district includes part of Omaha. The Legal Broadcast Network is a featured network of the Sequence Media Group.

Private Prisons: Financial Salvation for State Budgets? Maybe Not. Bob Donley Reports

LBN’s Bob Donley reports that the privatization of prisons in America is increasing. The reason for the growth of private prisons is the profit involved. Private prisons are not a new development, of course. During the American Revolution, England began using private ships moored offshore as a place to store criminals. After the Civil War, a number of landowners, especially in the South, contracted to use prisoners as cheap labor.

The modern era in private prisons began in the 1980s when Corrections Corporation of America was formed. It began managing its first facility in January, 1984. CCA is still the biggest operator in the private prison industry, now a $5 billion trade. Since 2000, CCA’s share value has risen from $1 per share to about $33. “So somebody, somewhere, is making a buck in this business.”

All told, there are about 133,000 inmates in private prisons—about 8.4% of the entire prison population. Proponents of private prison companies say that businesses can provide incarceration services more economically than governments. However, the Bureau of Justice Statistics finds no significant savings.

Critics of private jails point out that these institutions usually house less violent criminals, so it should be less expensive. About two years ago, there was a small push back from the private prison bandwagon: Kentucky and Idaho, among others, began to cut back or eliminate their usually of privately-operated prisons.

In spite of a few setbacks, the private prison business is still booming. Recently, Virginia, Louisiana, and Oklahoma have entered into contracts that guarantee a 95% occupancy rate for companies that operate prisons in those states. Arizona, Donley notes, upped the ante with a guarantee of a 100% occupancy rate. What that means, Donley points out, is that the state will pay for prison beds whether there are inmates there or not. “These firms are now, in essence, guaranteed to make a profit.”

The private prison industry is profitable and growing.

The Legal Broadcast Network is a featured network of the Sequence Media Group.

America’s War on Drugs Fills Prisons: Does It Solve Any Problems? Bob Donley Reports

LBN’s Bob Donley reports that America’s “War on Drugs” has long been considered a lost cause by its critics. Now, says Donley, evidence suggests that the war on drugs “may be harming the very fabric of our society.”

The problem stems from an emphasis on tough, mandatory sentences for drug crimes that came into play beginning in the 1980s. The point of the laws was to combat large drug enterprises. However, the law has in fact been applied in large part to low-level drug abusers. The Huffington Post reports that, in 1960, only 16% of the inmates in federal prisons were convicted of drug offenses. Today, that number has risen to more than 50%. In 1980, Donley notes, the total number of federal inmates was about 20,000. Today, that number is about 215,000, over a tenfold increase.

Donley points out that the intention of the harsh laws was to put violent criminals in prison. But while drug offenders make up 50% of the prison population, less than 3% are in prison for murder, aggravated assault and kidnapping combined. Donley notes that most prosecutions for violent crimes are in state, not federal courts.

Donley says that state prisons have mirrored the federal system, according to Business Insider, in terms of over-population. In the 1970s, drug inmates amounted to only 15 inmates per 100,000 adults in America. Today, the number is up to 148 per 100,000. And, again, notes Donley, the convictions are not primarily for large-scale drug offenses. According to statistics from 2009, 1.6 million people were arrested in one year on drug charges, but 4 out of 5 of the arrests were for possession, not distribution of drugs.

What it all adds up to, says Donley, is that 25% of all prison inmates are in prison in the United States—2.2 million people in prison, plus 4 million on supervised probation. “That’s a lot of people behind bars in a country known as the land of the free.”

The Legal Broadcast Network is a featured network of the Sequence Media Group.