During a recent presentation, University of Houston Law Professor David R. Dow shared lessons learned from the 20 years during which he defended over 100 death row inmates. Professor Dow asserted that there are common factors in the lives of those who are currently facing capital punishment. Dow said, “[I]f you tell me the name of a death row inmate - doesn’t matter what state he’s in, doesn’t matter if I’ve ever met him before - I’ll write his biography for you. And eight out of 10 times, the details of that biography will be more or less accurate… Eighty percent of the people on death row are people who came from [some] sort of dysfunctional family…. Eighty percent of the people on death row are people who had exposure to the juvenile justice system.” Professor Dow asserts that intervention during earlier stages of defendants’ lives may be one of the most effective ways of preventing them from committing violent crimes later on: “People might disagree about whether [a murderer] should have been executed. But I think everybody would agree that the best possible version … would be a story where no murder ever occurs.” Professor Dow concludes that early intervention is also a more practical use of taxpayers’ money. He said, “[F]or every $15,000 that we spend intervening in the lives of economically and otherwise disadvantaged kids in those earlier chapters, we save $80,000 in crime-related costs down the road. Even if you don’t agree that there’s a moral imperative that we do it, it just makes economic sense.”

(D. Dow, “Lessons from Death Row Inmates,” Tedx Austin, January 2012; DPIC Posted, June 27, 2012). Read full transcript of the presentation. Listen to our podcast on Death Row.