A measure that would replace capital punishment with a life sentence without the possibility of parole has qualified for California’s November ballot. The growing number of individuals who want to repeal the state’s capital punishment law claim that the process is expensive and that execution process is too long, resulting in only a handful of executions being carried out.
According to the Los Angeles Times, California has executed 13 inmates in the past 23 years and most prisoners on death row are more likely to die of old age. If the measure passes, approximately 700 California inmates would see their death sentences dropped and replaced with life terms without parole; these inmates would also be relocated from their single-cell rooms, which are more costly for the state, back to the general prison population where they would return to work.
Dr. Robert Nash Parker, a sociology professor and co-director of the Presley Center for Crime and Justice Studies at UC Riverside, is in favor of this measure for a number of reasons. He stated that there is no credible scientific study which shows that the death penalty deters or prevents murder. Furthermore, the death penalty precludes the possibility of new evidence being presented which could potentially acquit a prisoner. “A terrible injustice has been done in many cases where the person has already been executed, but the possibility of evidence to show this was an injustice is now moot,” stated Dr. Parker in an interview with the Highlander.
Dr. Parker also denounced capital punishment for the costs associated with administering the death penalty. “Given the barbaric nature of the penalty and the possibility of making a mistake, we have built…a process with many legal challenges and hurdles to execution built into the system—thus adding enormously to the cost,” stated Parker.
A study released last year concluded that the death penalty in California costs $183 million more to administer than life without possibility of parole. The cost to taxpayers significantly increases in cases of capital punishment due to additional legal costs and special housing units provided for inmates on death row. The study found that California’s 13 executions have resulted in a $4 billion charge to taxpayers.
Second-year UC Riverside student Nathaniel Coyne, who supports the new measure, feels that such costs are too high and that California should invest more in other areas such as education. “The death penalty is morally wrong and it’s costing the state money that we [don’t have],” stated Coyne in an interview with the Highlander.
The message sent by California voters in the past, however, has been in favor of the death penalty. One example was voter approval to expand the array of crimes that would make individuals subject to capital punishment via the Briggs Death Penalty Initiative of 1978. In an article by the Los Angeles Times, Kent Scheidegger, the legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, stated, “The people of California have regularly voted for the death penalty by wide margins, but of course it has to be a matter of concern.” He noted, however, that the momentum and support of the new measure may mark a shift in attitude among voters.