Death Penalty Reform on the California 2016 Ballot

By Ken Piorkowski (Lethal injection table) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Death penalty proponents and opponents are set to square off November 2016 in California with two measures on the ballot. Pro-death penalty activists are working to speed up the capital punishment process and the opposition are working toward abolishing it altogether.

 

Support for the death penalty has been on the steady decline over the last few decades nationwide with only 28 executions in 2015.


By Carl.bunderson via Wikimedia Commons

All of those executions happened in just six states: Georgia, Texas, Florida, Missouri, Virginia, and Oklahoma. Texas holds the title for most executions, but according to Santa Rosa criminal defense lawyer  Michael Li, California is actually home of the most inmates on death row with 743 condemned inmates as of January 1, 2016, and is known for having the most expensive capital punishment system in the country despite not putting anyone to death in the last 10 years.

 

California taxpayers have paid over $307 million for each of the 13 executions that have taken place since the death penalty was reinstated 38 years ago.

 

According to a recent report, it is estimated that the state of California could save nearly $5 billion between now and 2050 by switching all death sentences to a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. This projected savings  comes from the added cost of incarcerating condemned inmates due to increased security and staffing, the expensive and drawn out appeals process, and the added cost of a capital punishment trial compared to that of trial for a life sentence (estimated to be an additional $1 million per trial).

 

Besides the exaggerated cost of capital punishment, opponents of the death penalty argue that spending time on death row is considered cruel and unusual punishment. As of 1973, there have been 140 exonerations from death row in 26 different states. This has created another major argument against the death penalty as it’s possible victims of a wrongful conviction could be sentenced to death. Even law enforcement officials have spoken out against the death penalty and a survey of police chiefs across the country found the death penalty is ranked lowest for ways to reduce violent crime.

 

While the arguments against the death penalty make a valid point, many Californians still support capital punishment. No matter what side of the fence voters are on, it’s hard to deny the state’s system appears to be broken. People continue to be sentenced to death in California, yet executions are at a standstill causing an over crowded death row and unnecessary costs for inmates that end up dying of natural causes while waiting decades for execution. The 2016 November ballot could potentially alter the system one way or another, either speeding up the process or putting an end to this broken capital punishment system.

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