The High Cost of Keeping Richard Ramirez in Prison

English: San Quentin State Prison, CA Dansk: S...

English: San Quentin State Prison, CA Dansk: San Quentinfængslet i Californien (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Serial killers in the United States often gain cult status due to their strange courtroom antics and dramatic personalities. Recently deceased death row inmate Richard Ramirez was definitely one of the most famous serial killers of all time before he passed away of liver failure in California’s San Quentin State Prison.

After a dramatic arrest in 1985 in East Los Angeles by residents who recognized Ramirez from photographs displayed all over the news, Ramirez would sit in jail for years while awaiting a trial that finally began in 1989. There would be no more expensive trial in the history of Los Angeles County except for the O.J. Simpson trial that occurred a few years later.

At a cost of $1.8 million dollars, Los Angelinos would pay dearly for the privilege of trying Ramirez in a court of law. Incredibly, however, this massive sum wasn’t the only cost associated with this vicious serial killer. Because he was sentenced to death and due to the incredibly long appeals process associated with death row inmates, Ramirez sat in jail for over two decades without any fear of actually being put to death by the state of California.

Over the past hundred years, the number of individuals incarcerated in the United States has ballooned from a few hundred thousand people to almost 2.5 million prisoners. The most expensive people to incarcerate are death row inmates, who sit in a type of solitary confinement for decades. A moratorium on future executions in California has ensured that inmates like Ramirez have been costing taxpayers millions of dollars for housing and appeals with no likelihood of being put to death.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, there are around 700 people sitting on death row in California, which require a massive investment of tax dollars. The state’s ongoing budget crisis and inability to balance its budget has put great strain on the prison system to house so many death row inmates at such an incredible cost.

Richard Ramirez’s untimely death at the age of 53 and his decades-long residency within a state prison brings to light a disturbing fact: more inmates die of natural causes while on death row than are actually put to death. Whether support for the death penalty exists or not, the billions of dollars spent by the state to keep inmates on death row has resulted in just 13 executions since the late 1970s.

A study in 2011 that was conducted by a judge and professor in the state suggested that California has spent over $4 billion since the death penalty was reinstituted. Out of those funds spent, at least a billion dollars was used for housing and incarceration of the inmates, including serial killers like Richard Ramirez.

A further study presented by the Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice in 2008 suggested that keeping the system intact with inmates on death row would cost around $137 million dollars a year. On the other hand, if California was to commute those death sentences to life in prison and abolish the death penalty, the yearly cost would drop to $11.5 million a year.

Offering the families of victims of death penalty-worthy crimes the chance to see a killer or other criminal experience the ultimate punishment may offer some sort of closure. Unfortunately, with the expectation that individuals on death row are more likely to die of natural causes than be put to death in California, the implementation of the death penalty in the state must be reexamined.

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