California’s Death Penalty Should Expire in 2016

Death Penalty Should ExpireCalifornia cannot consider itself a progressive state as long as it shares the values of countries such as North Korea, Pakistan, Libya, Iran and Saudi Arabia in its choice of punishment: the death penalty.

No other Western nation has a death penalty. Nineteen states more enlightened than California have abolished it. It’s time to join them.

A referendum on capital punishment is in the works for 2016, with supporters and detractors gathering signatures for competing propositions on the ballot. Voters should make California the 20th state to abolish the death penalty.

If being a civilized state isn’t reason enough, consider this: The capital punishment system has cost taxpayers $5 billion since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978. For that investment, California has sentenced 1,046 people to die — and executed 13.

California would be far safer if it spent money instead to help law enforcement solve the hundreds of homicides statewide that go unsolved every year, partly for lack of staffing.


It costs about $90,000 a year more per prisoner on death row than it would cost to jail our worst criminals for life. California would be far safer if it spent money instead to help law enforcement solve the hundreds of homicides statewide that go unsolved every year, partly for lack of staffing. It could invest in proven crime prevention strategies including, simply, better education, and in helping victims of crime.

There is no compelling evidence that capital punishment is any more effective than life in prison at deterring crime.

Reporter Howard Mintz’s opportunity for a rare visit last week to San Quentin’s death row made it clear that most inmates know that they are far more likely to die in prison from natural causes than to be executed.

Death penalty supporters want to speed things up hurrying the appeals process. California should not go down that path. A study by the UC-Berkeley School of Law and criminal justice research firm Hollway Advisory Services found that as of 2012, California led the nation in exonerations for wrongful convictions since 1989, with 120. More than 40 percent of those wrongful convictions involved prisoners who had been sentenced to more than 20 years in prison.

Nationwide, more than 100 inmates have been freed from death row in the past 35 years. That’s why so many states have done away with the death penalty. Just think how many people likely have been killed for crimes they did not commit.

It’s also obvious that death sentences are unfairly applied in California, which had the most of any state in 2015 — 14. Of those, eight were in Riverside County. Alameda County is nearly eight times more likely to sentence people to death than Santa Clara County. Statewide, blacks are sentenced to death at a rate five times higher than their proportion of the population.

So to wrap up: Capital punishment does not prevent crime, costs billions that could be used to make this state safer, and puts us in the company of nations that also stone women to death for adultery.

What are we waiting for?