When I learned that California had reached 700 people on death row as a result of a death sentence imposed earlier this month, I was astounded. I knew it was coming, but we reached this epic milestone far sooner than I had expected. California now has more than twice as many death row prisoners as Texas, frequently known as the death state, which had 331 as of January 11th. Florida has the second largest death row in the country with 391 as of January 13th.
In 2009, new death sentences reached their lowest levels nationally since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. However, in California the number of new death sentences for 2009 reached 29, an almost 50% increase over the last few years. But the vast majority of those death verdicts came from just three counties (Los Angeles, Riverside and Orange). Los Angeles County alone had 13 death sentences last year. The entire state of Texas had only nine. Can you believe Los Angeles County surpassed the entire state of Texas?
A public opinion poll conducted in 2009 found that Californians overwhelmingly preferred a sentence of permanent imprisonment to the death penalty: 60% to 40%. When researchers add the requirement that prisoners work and pay restitution, support for the death penalty plummeted to just 26% while support for the alternative was more than 66% (Survey Research Center of the University of Virginia, 2009).
The size of California’s death row has reached epic proportions. We need to end this charade and admit that our death penalty experiment has failed. Resentencing everyone on death row to permanent imprisonment will save the state $1 billion over the next five years. This is money the state desperately needs right now. It is being wasted on a failed public policy.
Photo by kevinrosseel
By Stefanie Faucher