California's death penalty is archaic, unfairly applied and fiscally insane. More than 135 nations have abolished capital punishment, and the list of those that still use it is a who's who of human rights abusers: Iraq, Iran, Libya, China, North Korea and Sudan, for starters. Oh, and us.
This fall voters should make California the 18th state to repeal the death penalty in favor of life in prison with no chance of parole. Vote yes on Proposition 34.
Never mind moral arguments; the death penalty simply doesn't work. Since it was reinstated in 1978, California has spent $4 billion on just 13 executions. We are no safer.
Passing Proposition 34 will leave $180 million more per year in the general fund, where it can be spent on preventing crime rather than retribution: improving schools, for example; it's not straight-A students who pack jails. Of that amount, $30 million would go to law enforcement to help solve more homicide and rape cases. That's surefire crime prevention, locking up the bad guys.
The proposition also requires inmates to work in prison and turn over earnings to crime victims.
Death penalty supporters argue that the lengthy appeals that run up public costs should be cut short or ended. That works in barbaric nations that immediately execute prisoners. But it doesn't deal with a major reason other states have abolished the death penalty: increasing evidence that innocent people have been executed. More than 100 inmates have been freed from death row nationwide in the past 35 years. California has had none so far, but with more than 700 prisoners on death row and improving forensic techniques, the likelihood of finding errors is ever more likely. Why not just lock people away for life?
Guilt or innocence aside, it's clear that the death penalty is unfairly applied in California. A county-by-county study of death sentences from 2000 to 2007 found residents of Alameda County nearly eight times more likely to be sentenced to death than residents of Santa Clara County. Blacks in California are sentenced to death at a rate five times higher than their proportion of the population.
The tide is turning on support for the death penalty. California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, nominated by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, said in 2011 that the death penalty is "no longer effective" here. Donald Heller, the man who wrote the 1978 proposition that brought back capital punishment, now favors abolishing it. So does Jeanne Woodford, a former warden of San Quentin Prison.
Executions are barbaric, yet do not prevent crime any more effectively than life in prison. Because the high costs of death row pull money away from education and from police departments struggling to take active criminals off the street, it is making Californians less safe, not more.
Voters need to end it Nov. 6.