Our justice system isn’t infallible. Since 1973, 140 people have been found innocent and released from death rows in 26 states. Nationally, at least one person is exonerated for every 10 that are executed. We cannot trust the life of a human being in the hands of an imperfect death penalty system. Nor can we trust a system that, when applied, is largely dependent on how much money a convict has, their attorney’s skill, the victim’s race and where the crime took place. In addition, the death penalty costs Californians considerably more money than sentences of life without parole. By voting yes on Proposition 34 in November, Californians should repeal the death penalty, save the state money and avoid the risk of sentencing an innocent person. As a result, convicts would instead be given life imprisonment without parole.
In a 1995 survey of police chiefs nationwide, New York Attorney Richard C. Dieter found that they rank the death penalty lowest among ways to reduce violent crime, placing it behind curbing drug abuse, more police officers on the streets, lowering the technical barriers to prosecution, longer sentences and a better economy with more jobs. And what if new evidence reveals a convict’s innocence? It’s easier to release an inmate than revive one from the dead.
It actually costs less to keep inmates in prison than it does to enforce the death penalty. According to data from the Death Penalty Information Center, the cost of the death penalty in California has totaled over $4 billion since 1978: $1.94 billion for pretrial and trial costs, $925 million for automatic appeals and state habeas corpus petitions, $775 million for federal habeas corpus appeals and $1 billion for incarceration costs. Compare these figures to the $47,000 cost per year to incarcerate an inmate in prison.
However, it is unclear exactly how much will California save by eliminating the death penalty. Head of the California District Attorneys Association W. Scott Thorpe states that an accurate assessment of the fiscal impact is impossible, and that some costs will actually increase if the death penalty is abolished. But according to a study by U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Arthur L. Alarcon and Loyola Law School professor Paula M. Mitchell, the death penalty costs the state $184 million a year. Our state, currently mired in economic woes, would undoubtedly benefit by eliminating such a costly happening.
Prop 34 states that a fund of $100 million will be distributed to law enforcement agencies in order to help solve more homicide and rape cases. But we may not know whether or not the money actually goes to what the bill proposes. Though $100 million is a large sum that can go to areas of the state that are in more need, it seems a better alternative to the death penalty, with its monumental costs, especially in recognizing the current amount required to execute an inmate.
In theory, the death penalty might sound attractive to some, but that’s assuming we live in a perfect world with an infallible justice system—one that never makes mistakes. But we don’t, unfortunately. The death penalty costs the state more than it does life without parole and seeing that California is already in a financial crisis, it is more plausible to repeal capital punishment. Californians are better off saving a great deal of much-needed money and avoiding the risk of murdering an innocent person than trusting our government to decide who should and shouldn’t be killed.