The South African civil rights advocate Archbishop Desmond Tutu once said that “To take a life when a life has been lost is revenge, not justice.” This November, California has a unique opportunity to heed this advice by voting in favor of Proposition 34. If approved by the voters, Prop. 34 would end the use of the death penalty in California and start a fund of $100 million to help law enforcement crack more rape and murder cases.
The death penalty is too expensive for our state to continue as we battle a $16 billion budget deficit. California has spent $4 billion on the death penalty since it was re-instituted in the state by Proposition 7 in 1978. According to a 2011 study, death cases in California cost an average of $308 million per execution. Because of the extra costs for security and legal representation, death cases cost twenty times more than life-without-parole cases. Combined, the state spends $184 million per year than it would if those on death row were given life in prison without the possibility of parole.
In the 2000 Presidential debates, George W. Bush said that “I think the reason to support the death penalty because it saves other people’s lives.” Contrary to his belief and those of many more, however, the death penalty is not a deterrent to crime. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, in 2010 the murder rate per 100,000 residents of death penalty states is 25 percent higher than the murder rate per 100,000 residents in states without the death penalty. Statistics show that states which have recently stopped using the death penalty, such as New York in 2004 and North Carolina in 2006, have had no significant increase in the murder of police officers. Finally, a recent survey of criminologists found that 84 percent rejected the notion that the death penalty was a deterrent.
The risk of an innocent man being executed may astound you. Since 1976, when the U.S. Supreme Court ended the national moratorium on the death penalty in the case of Gregg v. Georgia, 141 inmates on death row have had their convictions overturned. Two of those inmates had their convictions overturned this year alone.
Prop. 34 is supported by former Los Angeles District Attorney Gil Garcetti, former California Attorney General John Van de Kamp, the California Nurses Association, the California Conference of Catholic Bishops, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the California Democratic Party. Donald J. Heller and Ron Briggs, who respectively wrote and campaigned for the 1978 proposition that restored the use of the death penalty in California, both support Proposition 34.
America is one of only a few Western nations which maintains the use of capital punishment. Even within the United States, seventeen states have stopped using the death penalty. It’s time for California to join them and move on from this expensive and ineffective death penalty system.