Retired Kansas Secretary of Corrections, Roger Werholtz, has spoken out recently twice in support of death penalty abolition.
He served as Secretary of Corrections in Kansas for 8 years, as well as interim director in the Colorado Department of Corrections in 2013. He told the October 21st Abolition Conference that there is too much misconduct and error in the system “to be absolutely certain” we would not execute an innocent person.
He also addressed public safety and shared about his conversations with the families of the last 3 corrections professionals murdered in Colorado. All of them opposed the death penalty because they knew there were better ways to keep the public safe.
Secretary Werholtz told conference attendees “because of the drain of resources the death penalty creates in Kansas we’re not as safe as we could be.”
Then, in a October 31st guest column in the Topeka Capital Journal, Secretary Werholtz reiterated how the death penalty harms public safety. He noted that studies have shown defense and court costs are significantly higher in death penalty cases. He documented the ongoing challenges in the Kansas prison system–inability to staff the prisons, mandatory overtime, high prison guard turnover, loss of programs that do make a difference in prisoner behavior. He went on to address the issue of a new prison and the resultant need for a new execution chamber. Secretary Werholtz noted that consequences of moving the death chamber to El Dorado would be additional trauma for the staff there because of the well documented psychological cost for staff who know an inmate and participate in his/her execution.
He concluded his guest column this way: “…There is no shortage of needs for the current Kansas Department of Corrections. We absolutely shouldn’t do anything to make the job of being a Kansas corrections officer even more difficult. With funds so scarce, and the needs so great, it simply makes no sense for us to continue to invest more in our ineffective death penalty. The opportunity is ripe: It’s time to end the death penalty.”