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California Could Vote to End the Death Penalty

California Could Vote to End the Death Penalty

Last week, State Senator Loni Hancock introduced a bill in the California legislature which could abolish the death penalty, and commute all of the state’s death sentences to life without parole.  Hancock’s proposal would place an initiative on the November 2012 ballot, allowing California voters to decide whether they want to join Illinois and the sixteen other states where capital punishment is illegal.

Hancock says that ending the death penalty would save California billions of dollars, powerful words for a state in the grips of a massive budget crisis.  ”We are spending $184 million a year on a death penalty fiction that actually rarely executes anyone and costs a fortune,” Hancock explained.

California has an enormous number of people on death row (714 to be precise), nearly twice the number as Florida, the state with the next-largest death row population.  And this is costing the state a ridiculous amount of money: according to the LA Times, “taxpayers have spent more than $4 billion on capital punishment in California since it was reinstated in 1978,” which could in part explain the state’s massive budget shortfall.  This is in large part because the lag time between conviction and execution is, on average, around 20 years, and because California has not executed a criminal since 2006 due to a court battle over how executions should be conducted, this gap is only growing.

“We really want voters to wake up and realise this is a horrible waste of money. If they are going to insist on keeping the death penalty they are going to have to spend even more money to fix it,” says Paula Mitchell, a law professor and the joint author of a report on the death penalty in California.

Is now the time for California to start waking up?  According to the California group, Death Penalty Focus, the bill will have its first hearing next week.  As is often the case with the political process, it may not advance very far unless California voters show that this is an issue they care about.  So although the bill must be approved by the state legislature and signed by the governor before an initiative to repeal the death penalty can appear on the 2012 ballot, you can make your voice heard by writing to your legislators and telling them to help the bill progress.

Ending the death penalty could clearly save the state of California a lot of money.  And for many, the ethical implications are equally, if not more important.  If you are opposed to capital punishment, whether for economic or ideological reasons, and live in California, this 4th of July weekend, tell your legislators that our country is better than the death penalty.

Photo from World Coalition Against the Death Penalty’s Flickr photostream.

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36 comments

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2:22PM PDT on Aug 31, 2011

The death penalty is hypocritical to the U.S.'s standards. It's also a waste of life and money. So why bother doing it?

11:35AM PDT on Aug 14, 2011

I hope it happens.

Go California, shore up your progressive credentials.

12:24AM PDT on Jul 6, 2011

End the death penalty in California as a start to get the ball rolling for the Southern states.

10:38AM PDT on Jul 5, 2011

Sorry but it the person is a serial killer with no remorse then he should die and don't waste tax dollars and space on this planet.

5:08AM PDT on Jul 5, 2011

john h - and eye for an eye was in the Judaic texts, and was expressly forbidden by Christ - the one you claim to follow. if you are Jewish, then using this quote makes sense, if you are Christian, you are supposed to follow the one you believe to be the Son of God. Unless you would like to ignore the fact that He forbade killing anyone at all, for any reason, including for doing something wrong. He also said we don't get the right to decide who has "the right to be alive". only God does.

7:35PM PDT on Jul 3, 2011

alex l. but the bible also says a eye for a eye and what about the people who dont believe in a god . also i'am a christian and believe that there are people in this world that dont have the right to be alive with some of the cruel things they have done to our fellow man or woman .

12:53PM PDT on Jul 3, 2011

If one convicted person is killed by the death penalty and later deemed innocent, then the death penalty must be abolished. I wonder about the financial argument above. Isn't it cheaper to kill a prisoner than feed and house them for their entire lifetime?

12:01PM PDT on Jul 3, 2011

Why the death penalty? Revenge?

10:30AM PDT on Jul 3, 2011

I would support abolishing the death penalty if we had ABSOLUTE ASSURANCE that these murderers would NEVER be set free. I am with Ann Rule who supports this idea. I also think we should have 'lifers' give permission for testing of various drugs instead of using our precious animals for testing. Perhaps they would agree to doing something positive by giving life to others in exchange for the lives they took...

9:11AM PDT on Jul 3, 2011

I say "Off with their heads"! Maybe then a person would think twice before he decided to kill someone. Those on death row have already taken a life, but are still allowed to live. How fair is that????

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