Tuesday, February 22, 2011


The San Jose Mercury News says paying the cost of the death penalty is fiscal insanity. On the contrary, I say that saving the cost of the death penalty is fiscal insanity because it, like other correctional cost cuts – early prison releases and reduced parole supervision – will jeopardize public safety.

You may ask how substituting ‘Life Without Parole’ for the death penalty can possibly put the public’s safety at risk? That’s an easy one. A deterrent to commit murder will no longer come into play if the possibility of a death penalty disappears.

The cost savings hurled out by the Mercury News are highly suspect because they are based on the dubious claims of those opposed to the death penalty. But even if correct, they are not worth risking the lives of potential murder victims.

The following editorial will have anti-death penalty zealot Dorina Lisson jumping up and down with utter joy.



San Jose Mercury News
February 20, 2011

The legislative analyst last week announced a menu of fallback options in case Gov. Jerry Brown fails to persuade voters to extend billions in taxes that otherwise will expire. It's grim, predicting devastating cuts to schools and public safety.

But there is a way to cut costs without damaging California's future: Brown should commute the sentences of all 718 prisoners on death row to life in prison with no possibility of parole. This could save the state more than $1 billion over five years.

We can invest that money in preparing kids to lead productive lives and in law enforcement to protect Californians from the criminals who are not sealed forever behind bars.

We oppose the death penalty on principle. So does the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, which is advocating the commutations. But this isn't about principle. It's a matter of curbing spending on dysfunctional and ineffective programs. Capital punishment in California is both.

Each death row inmate costs taxpayers about $175,000 more per year than a prisoner sentenced to life, according to multiple sources, including housing and mandatory appeals. Taxpayers spend $125.7 million a year -- enough to pay the salaries of nearly 2,000 CHP officers or 1,850 teachers -- on capital punishment. Even worse, lawmakers plan to spend nearly $400 million to build a new death row.

This is fiscal insanity.

Even supporters of the death penalty must see that it's not working. California has executed 13 people since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976. Appeals take decades because there are not enough resources to handle such a weighty process, and scrimping is not an option: More than 130 death row inmates nationwide have been freed after proving their innocence.

The system is beset by legal challenges. Executions have been on hold since 2006, when U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel set out to determine whether the state's method is constitutional. Opponents are challenging the legality of importing the execution drug sodium thiopental, which isn't made domestically.

Death penalty supporters believe we need to fix the process, not eliminate it. But we are in a crisis, and further cuts to education and public safety will only lead to more crime.

Budget cuts next year could force California to weaken its Three Strikes Law and eliminate up to $506 million in programs to prevent and prosecute crime. The state's victim compensation fund is nearly broke. Why not direct the millions spent on death row toward programs that actually help victims?

Article V, Section 8(a) of the state constitution gives the governor power to commute sentences. For any death row inmate who has been convicted of a felony twice, Brown must obtain the approval of four state Supreme Court justices. But that shouldn't be hard. The justices spend at least a quarter of their time dealing with death penalty cases, according to recently retired Chief Justice Ronald George.

Brown has offered a plan to close the budget deficit, but he says he welcomes other ideas. This is a good one. Capital punishment is an expense this state cannot afford.

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