Commentary: Policy in the Golden State — Abolishing the Death Penalty



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John J. Donohue III
By John J. Donohue III

The Death Penalty Does Not Add Up to Smart Justice


Simply put, the death penalty is the worst possible allocation of money if your goal is crime prevention.

High costs are a defining characteristic of the death penalty. Current estimates, extrapolating from the 2012 Loyola Law School study, show California spent roughly $5 billion to operate our death penalty system since 1978. During that time, the state executed 13 people.

Right now, we pay to keep 746 inmates on a death row that has not seen a single sentence carried out in 10 years. The last murder that resulted in a death row execution occurred in May of 1982 – over 34 years ago! It is no surprise that a punishment so rarely carried out as the death penalty is routinely proven not to deter crime.

The death penalty also represents a lost opportunity. The resources we waste on the death penalty undermine our ability to prevent crime.

At an average cost of $86,040 per California police officer, the $5 billion we spent on the death penalty could have been used instead to put 58,113 more officers on the streets. If assigned appropriately, those officers would be expected to prevent roughly 700 murders (and much other crime). In other words, our past failure to use our criminal justice resources wisely has made us all less safe.

If the state were to eliminate the death penalty, taxpayers will save $150 million a year, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office. Those funds can be much better used to hire more police officers or invest in other crime-fighting measures that actually work. That’s smart justice.

From the standpoint of effective justice, the death penalty does not add up.

John J. Donohue is the C. Wendell and Edith M. Carlsmith Professor of Law at Stanford University’s Law School. The opinions in this article are presented in the spirit of spurring discussion and reflect those of the author and not necessarily the treasurer, his office or the State of California.

Chief Ken Corney
By Anne Marie Schubert

Abolishing the Death Penalty is Wrong for California


Abolishing the death penalty system in California will deny justice to thousands of victims and their families.

Today, California has 746 brutal killers sitting on death row. These killers are the worst of the worst – serial killers, baby killers, cop killers and killers who rape and torture women. People like Lawrence Bittaker who tortured, raped and killed five young women or Randy Kraft who murdered 16 young men or Charles Ng who was convicted of murdering 11 people but was likely the murderer of 25 people, all sit on death row today — decades after juries made the decision that the penalty was warranted.

California’s death penalty system has been broken by the very people who want it abolished. But it can be fixed. The most experienced legal experts on the death penalty want reform to ensure due process, to balance the rights of all involved—defendants, victims and their families. And most importantly, to provide justice for the worst killers.

The system should be streamlined to ensure criminals sentenced to death will not wait years simply to have an appellate attorney appointed. This will limit unnecessary and repetitive delays in state court to five years. While there are no innocent people on California’s death row, we can ensure due process by never limiting claims of actual innocence.

Reforming death row housing will also save millions of taxpayer dollars by eliminating single cell housing for inmates. Inmates should also be required to work in prison and to pay restitution to victims’ families.

Supporters of abolishing the death penalty want to eliminate the possibility of an innocent person being put to death. However, there is not one documented case of this happening in California. In fact, even Governor Jerry Brown has admitted “there are no innocent inmates on California’s death row.” Additionally, these same supporters say that repealing the death penalty will save the state $150 million annually. The truth is that keeping brutal killers in prison for life costs California taxpayers millions of dollars in housing and health care.

A reformed — and improved — death penalty process in California will ensure the families of victims have the justice that was promised to them.

Anne Marie Schubert is a Board Member of the California District Attorneys Association. The opinions in this article are presented in the spirit of spurring discussion and reflect those of the author and not necessarily the treasurer, his office or the State of California.

Opposing views are presented in the State Treasurer’s website/newsletter:Intersections

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William "Bill" Hicks

What is gained by eliminating the death penalty? With prison’s being already “overcrowded” what will we do with more life sentences? Will they be the future prisoners released because they are “minor offenders” eventually?

Citizen Reporter

Where is this in the State Treasurer’s charter?