In the 34 years since the death penalty was reinstated, California residents have debated incessantly about the morality of it as well as the effectiveness of it, as a deterrent.
What Proposition 34 is forcing more than anything, however, is a debate about its cost effectiveness. In other words, does it pay to punish capital criminals — or attempt to — by means of the death penalty anymore? We believe the answer is no. For this reason, we encourage voters to put an end to the death penalty by voting yes on Proposition 34 on Nov. 6.
Here's why. California has spent about $4 billion on capital punishment since the death penalty was restored in 1978. Since then, roughly 900 individuals have received a death sentence. But of these, only 14 have been executed, the last one being in 2006. Far more — 83 in all — have died of old age.
This means that the state is spending about $300 million on every execution, a cost that is climbing with each year.
Meanwhile, the number of people on Death Row at San Quentin State Prison continues to grow and now stands at about 725. The annual cost of housing these inmates is $90,000 higher than it is for taking care of inmates in the general population. And it's about to get worse as the state needs to upgrade and expand Death Row.
Given the state's fiscal challenges, this is one expense that can and should be eliminated.
Proposition 34 would repeal the death penalty and replace it with a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. That simple change would save counties and the state roughly $100 million to $130 million a year as trials would be shortened and the need for extra attorneys to prosecute death penalty cases would be eliminated. Moreover, the cost of imprisonment and appeals would be curtailed.
The proposition sets aside $100 million over four years from these savings to be awarded as grants to police departments and district attorneys' offices to help in law enforcement and prosecution.
Opponents are campaigning against 34 by listing all of the heinous crimes those on Death Row have committed. There's no disputing the horrific nature of these crimes. The worst of the worst is Richard Allen Davis, who has been on Death Row for 16 years for the kidnap and murder of 12-year-old Polly Klaas of Petaluma. Davis finally saw his death sentence upheld in 2010 by the state Supreme Court. But he remains a long way from receiving a set execution date. It could be another 10 to 15 years before all legal options are exhausted. Why give him the satisfaction of knowing how much money the state is wasting on him?
Under Proposition 34, Davis, along with other former Death Row inmates, would be required to work while in prison and possibly make payments to the families of their victims.