Authorities in California have not executed a death row inmate since 2006, even though the Golden State’s penitentiaries house more than 700 prisoners who have been sentenced to death for their heinous crimes. Thanks to both a shortage of the drugs used for lethal injections and a backlogged court system, some of these inmates have had the dates of their executions delayed for decades, all the while getting their three squares a day on the taxpayers’ dime. Three former California governors, Pete Wilson (R), George Deukmejian (R) and Gray Davis (D) want to put the “function” back in the state’s dysfunctional death penalty process and get the executions expedited.
Wilson, Deukmejian and Davis announced their support for a ballot initiative that would not only schedule the executions of death row inmates sooner, but also save state correctional facilities tens of millions of dollars annually. The three are in favor of an initiative put forth by the group, Californians for Death Penalty Reform and Savings, who state that California’s death row includes inmates who are serial killers, instruments of mass murder, criminals responsible for the deaths of children and the deaths of those who were victims of hate crimes. The group also states, “The death penalty system is broken, but it can and should be fixed.”
The initiative would reform California’s death penalty process and, according to the authors, ensure justice for the victims, their families and even the defendants who often have to wait years just to get their appeals heard by the California Supreme Court. If approved, it would reform the appeals process, which would be expedited by the sharing of the death penalty caseload with state appellate courts before consideration by the California Supreme Court.
The initiative would limit the amount of time given to state courts to review death penalty cases which can currently drag on for more than five years. Further, death row inmates would no longer have the luxury of single cell incarceration, (or conversely, the loneliness of isolation) which is cost prohibitive, but would be required to room with other inmates. They would also have a work requirement so that they could put their time behind bars to good use in the form of restitution to the victim’s families as outlined in the current Victims’ Bill of Rights.
It is interesting to note that the initiative would also exempt prison officials from the existing regulation process used to develop methods of execution. No details as of yet have been provided on what the alternative methods would be. This may in fact be a solution to the inability to execute prisoners due to a shortage of the chemical compounds used in the lethal injection process.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C., a new study in California has shown that the cost of the death penalty has exceeded $4 billion since 1978. In a state that has long been fiscally running in the red, this is a significant expenditure. Included in that sum were pre-trial and trial costs, automatic appeals, habeas corpus petitions, and the costs of housing death row inmates.
The Californians for Death Penalty Reform and Savings group bluntly states the crimes of death row inmates in California including the murders of over 1,000 people. Of those people, 229 were children, 43 were police officers, 235 of the victims were raped and 90 of those victims were tortured. If Californians want the executions of these inmates expedited, supporters have until July 10, 2014, to get a minimum of 807,615 valid signatures in order for the initiative to be put to a vote in November.
In 2012, Proposition 34, a ballot measure that would have repealed the death penalty in California was put to the people for a vote. Fifty-two percent remained in favor of the death penalty and thus it remains legal in the state. If the death penalty process continues to be so hampered by a dysfunctional system then Californians might as well vote to repeal it. Leave out the moral questions and it becomes a matter of fiscal practicality. Since the death penalty is legal in the state, there is no sense in leaving inmates hanging in limbo. Let them go through a realistic appeals process and if it is determined they are to die, expedite their executions. As former Governor Pete Wilson said, “Old age should not be the leading cause of death on death row.”
Editorial By Alana Marie Burke