California Might Ban Death Penalty for Cost, Not Morals

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Californians like their death penalty. They tend to vote for it whenever an initiative or supporter hits the ballot. But the latest initiative to end it just might pass not because its proponents argue the death penalty's wrong, but that it's too expensive. Not only is it pricey, but the state's death penalty system, which is the largest in the nation, rarely gets used. So why pay for it? That's logic that speaks to conservatives, who would otherwise be more likely to support capital punishment.

The San Jose Mercury News' Christina Villacorte reports some comments from Jeanne Woodford, former warden of San Quentin State Prison, who said that for all the billions the state has spent developing a lethal injection system, it has only executed 13 people in 30 years. "We know that death row inmates get special and expensive housing, security and legal services, and that 99 percent of them will die of illness or old age, just like people serving life in prison without the possibility of parole," she said. And the Los Angeles Times Maura Dolan reports on a study that tallied just how pricey the punishment has been for the state:

A three-year study by a judge and a law professor concluded last year that the death penalty in California costs $183 million more to administer than life without possibility of parole, and that California's 13 executions cost taxpayers $4 billion. The additional expense includes legal costs for expanded trials and appeals and for housing inmates in single cells.

With executions suspended anyway thanks to litigation and a lethal injection drug shortage, the notion that instead of paying to house death row inmates separately, they might actually join the general population and work to repay their victims' families, seems like it will actually get some traction. It already got more than the half-million signatures needed to get it on the ballot for November.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.