Coincidentally, it was exactly one year ago that Californians got the first comprehensive report on exactly how dysfunctional and expensive the death penalty system already is. On June 30, 2008 the bi-partisan California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice released their report on the death penalty, finding that it costs taxpayers $137 million each year, yet remains riddled with serious flaws, including a real risk of wrongful execution and an appeals process that causes suffering to murder victim survivors. On the other hand, the Commission found that the alternative of permanent imprisonment for all those currently on death row would save $125 million each year, while still protecting the public. Now, one year later, the system is just as dysfunctional and even more expensive.
Rather than continuing the status quo, the Governor could suspend the death penalty and save the state $1 billion in five years. The potential savings break down as:
$125 million per year in the extra expenses of the death penalty. By converting all death sentences to permanent imprisonment, Gov. Schwarzenegger would save the state over $600 million in five years.
$400 million for the construction of a new death row. The State Auditor estimates building a new death row facility at San Quentin will cost at least $400 million. Building anywhere else will be even more expensive. If all death sentences were converted and any new death sentences suspended for five years, we would avoid this cost.
Some hear these figures and think the best solution would be to “speed up” the death penalty appeals process. But the Commission tried to find ways to do that, and discovered they would cost even more money—nearly $100 million more.
Today, hundreds of diverse California residents will seize their first opportunity to speak out publicly against the death penalty and will say loud and clear to the Governor and the Legislature stop wasting our money on this failed system.
The ACLU of Northern California will be in Sacrament for the Day of Action. Follow @ACLU_NorCal for regular updates throughout the day, and visit www.aclunc.org/deathpenalty for more information.
At yesterday’s Day of Action to End the Death Penalty, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation heard from over 100 anti-death penalty activists as they gave moving and impassioned testimony against proposed regulations to resume executions in California. The hearing was originally scheduled to last only until 3 pm, but CDCR had to extend the hearing time to allow everyone a chance to make their voices heard.
Among those testifying were:
Judy Kerr, spokesperson for California Crime Victims for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, and many other murder victim survivors who oppose executions in their name;
Gloria Killian, Tom Goldstein and Greg Wilhoit, all wrongfully convicted and only released after spending years behind bars;
Barbara Becnel, who witnessed the botched execution of Stanley “Tookie” Williams by lethal injection;
Bill Babbitt, who saw his brother Manny Babbitt executed even though Manny was a Vietnam Veteran who suffered from severe mental illness;
Fr. George Horan on behalf of the California Catholic Conference, along with religious leaders from many other faiths;
and dozens more California residents, teachers, and health care workers concerned about the high cost of the entire death penalty system at a time of fiscal disaster.
By the end of the day – the deadline for submitting written comments on the regulations – more than 7,000 comments have been submitted to CDCR, to which they must now respond. Nearly all object to implementing the regulations as currently written.
At 3 pm, nearly 200 activists filed out of the hearing room and marched to the Capitol to deliver their message to the Governor. Carrying signs calling for “Money for Education, Not Executions,” the group congregated on the North Steps of the Capitol and listened as Mike Farrell, President of Death Penalty Focus, called on the Governor to convert all death sentences immediately to save the state $1 billion over the next five years.
As more anti-death penalty leaders spoke, a small contingent of activists went in to the Capitol building, to deliver to the Governor a symbolic check for $1 billion and a petition with 5,000 signatures calling on the Governor to immediately convert all death sentences to permanent imprisonment to save the state money. Dozens of activists then filed through the capitol building, handing packets of information to every single legislator on the costs and flaws in California’s death penalty.
All around Sacramento yesterday the message was heard: California cannot afford our deeply flawed death penalty system; it is time for a change.