Blog of Rights

Day of Action to End the Death Penalty

By Natasha Minsker, ACLU of Northern California at 3:37pm

(Cross-posted on Daily Kos and Calitics.)

Today, for the first time ever, Californians will have the chance to weigh in on the state’s broken death penalty system. Victims, clergy, legal experts, wrongfully convicted individuals and concerned taxpayers from around the state will converge on Sacramento for a public hearing of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, to give their comments on new regulations for lethal injections.

The hearing comes after three years of legal challenges and three years without executions in California. If the rules are adopted and more pending legal challenges are resolved quickly, executions could resume as soon as 2010. But only four people have exhausted all of their appeals and would even be eligible for execution. Meanwhile in the last three years, 16 people on death row have died of natural causes or suicide. California has only managed to carry out 13 executions since the death penalty was reinstated in 1977.

Yet despite having no official method of execution for the last three years, California has wasted hundreds of millions of dollars on the death penalty system, and stands poised to waste another $1 billion over the next five years. So after voicing their opinion on executions today, concerned taxpayers will also have their chance to voice their opinion on wasteful spending, calling on the Governor to end the death penalty altogether and save the state millions.

Coincidentally, it was exactly one year ago that Californians got the first comprehensive report on exactly how dysfunctional and expensive the death penalty system already is. On June 30, 2008 the bi-partisan California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice released their report on the death penalty, finding that it costs taxpayers $137 million each year, yet remains riddled with serious flaws, including a real risk of wrongful execution and an appeals process that causes suffering to murder victim survivors. On the other hand, the Commission found that the alternative of permanent imprisonment for all those currently on death row would save $125 million each year, while still protecting the public. Now, one year later, the system is just as dysfunctional and even more expensive.

Rather than continuing the status quo, the Governor could suspend the death penalty and save the state $1 billion in five years. The potential savings break down as:

$125 million per year in the extra expenses of the death penalty. By converting all death sentences to permanent imprisonment, Gov. Schwarzenegger would save the state over $600 million in five years.

$400 million for the construction of a new death row. The State Auditor estimates building a new death row facility at San Quentin will cost at least $400 million. Building anywhere else will be even more expensive. If all death sentences were converted and any new death sentences suspended for five years, we would avoid this cost.

Some hear these figures and think the best solution would be to “speed up” the death penalty appeals process. But the Commission tried to find ways to do that, and discovered they would cost even more money — nearly $100 million more.

Today, hundreds of diverse California residents will seize their first opportunity to speak out publicly against the death penalty and will say loud and clear to the Governor and the Legislature stop wasting our money on this failed system.

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