There are competing schools of thought when it comes to capital punishment. Often thickly-worded, the arguments of both camps tend to boil down to the same issue: the sanctity of life.
Those opposing the death penalty see even one executed prisoner who was not guilty as too many. Those supporting it see the loss of the victim’s life as tragic enough to justify the reaction; the potential loss of life is enough reason to end the threat for good.
Those opposed to execution argue that the criminals would still be sealed away for life, removing them from potentially hurting anyone else. Supporters fire back that a killers’ survival hurts the family and friends of the victims.
There is no end to the back and forth, and there never will be, but this doesn’t stop supporters of Proposition 34 from trying to amend the California Constitution.
While Proposition 34 might have some noble intentions, it comes with the caveat of adding extra complications to the funding and legal proceedings of current and future criminals.
For some perspective on California’s death penalty; in 1972 capital punishment was ruled in violation to the California State Constitution. Six years later the voting public amended the constitution to allow the death penalty to continue. Since then 13 prisoners have been executed and another 725 are awaiting execution.
Since 2006, there’s been a moratorium on the death penalty for two reasons; the method of execution could result in great pain, and the process of getting someone executed is needlessly expensive and overly lengthy.
Since 1978, California taxpayers have spent $4 billion to see 13 people face the judgment that was given to them, according to the study “Executing the Will of the Voters.”
While this is hardly a drop in the bucket, it’s not as damning as you might expect; the $140 million spent annually on death row inmates is less than one percent of the state budget, according to the Vera Institute of Justice.
This is largely relative, though, and should be considered on a more focused scale. The average inmate costs the state around $65,000 a year, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office. Inexpensive, considering the cost of each of those 725 death row inmates equates to over $190,000 a year. Their incarceration isn’t what drives up these massive bills, but rather the process of getting them to execution. Death row inmates cost almost three times more than other prisoners.
A vast majority of those costs are put into trial, automatic appeals and state and federal habeas corpus petitions. The cost of their incarceration itself was little over $40,000 a year, no more expensive than the average inmate.
Proposition 34 also attempts to make sure that the truly guilty are prosecuted more efficiently, putting over half of the money it says it would annually save into a “SAFE California Fund.” This money is to be distributed to precincts when dealing with cases of murder or rape to help assuage costs of processing DNA evidence and getting the hours needed to work the cases.
The problem is how Proposition 34 allocates the spending of this extra money.
The money could go towards expanding the law enforcement budget altogether, to help find those truly guilty, but this bill doesn’t propose that. Instead it nitpicks causes to be defined by the attorney general. This fund has a cap of $100 million, but gets refilled every fiscal year, leading to no real oversight in how it’s spent.
The rest of the savings promised in this bill will go to putting all the inmates on death row back into the appellate process to receive life in prison without the possibility of parole, forcing another trip through the system they’ve been involved in since they were found guilty.
There are problems with the death penalty, such as vaguely worded laws. California’s definition of crimes that can receive the sentencing include “lying in wait” for the victim—which pretty much describes all first-degree murders—and “especially heinous” acts even though rape, torture, cruelty to children and many other criteria are already covered.
These hazy descriptions leave broad room for interpretation, and should be addressed, but so should the entire system.
Even in the sentencing of an individual whose guilt is without question, 20 years would have to pass before their judgment can be acted on, costing an average of just under $4 million for a single inmate!
Throwing an expensive wrench into the system and repeating a process that already exists is not how to deal with the question of capital punishment’s morality.
Even if I were to support abolishing the death penalty, I would rather vote on it alone, rather than two or three other budgetary pet projects of the proposition’s three highest donors.