"Cost Concerns Lead California’s Death Penalty Repeal Debate, is the Stateline - Pew Center on the States, report posted by Maggie Clark. Here's an extended excerpt:
For Ron Briggs, California’s ballot initiative to repeal the death penalty isn’t just a policy change, but a chance to right the “ineffective legal beast created by California’s death penalty laws,” which he and his father, then a state senator, helped put in place nearly 40 years ago.
“We thought our 1978 initiative created a system to support victims' families,” wrote Briggs in a Los Angeles Times commentary earlier this year. “It didn't. The only people benefiting today are the lawyers who handle expensive appeals and the criminals who are able to keep their cases alive interminably.”
Briggs, a self-described conservative who now serves on the Board of Supervisors for El Dorado County and has seen firsthand the “fiscally ruinous effects” of his initiative, joins a chorus of former death penalty supporters who now say that California’s system is unfixable and should be abolished. In November, California voters will decide whether to approve a constitutional amendment to repeal the state’s death penalty and commute the sentences of current death row inmates to life without the possibility of parole.
Advocates for repeal hope that voters will be persuaded not only by the moral reasons to oppose the death penalty, but also the fiscal ones.
“Voters are shocked when they learn that we are on track to spend $1 billion in 5 years on a broken death penalty,” said Miriam Gerace, communications director for the SAFE California campaign to repeal the death penalty, in an email to Stateline, “California is broke and voters are ready to have an informed conversation about how we can cut ineffective programs that cost too much and serve no useful purpose.”
A July analysis from the state’s Legislative Analysts’ Office found that repealing the death penalty would save the state and counties up to $130 million annually. California has spent about $4 billion on the death penalty system since Briggs’ family brought back California’s death penalty in 1978, according to an analysis from Ninth Circuit Judge Arthur Alarcon and Professor Paula Mitchell. And in that time, only 13 people have actually been executed.
California’s death penalty system is the nation’s largest, with 729 condemned inmates on death row as of this month, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. But it’s not the only state to question the death penalty in the last few years. Connecticut, New Jersey, Illinois and New Mexico have repealed their death penalties in recent years and even in states with the death penalty, fewer death sentences are being handed down.
“This isn’t an out-of-the-blue ballot initiative,” Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, told Stateline. “It’s a test of which direction California wants to go.”
Earlier coverage of Prop. 34, the SAFE California ballot initiative, begins at the link; more at, SAFE Caliornia.