California Report Indicts Death Penalty

The California Commission on the Death Penalty released its report on June 30, 2008, and I think it is important for Tennesseans, whose legislature is also examining the death penalty with the Tennessee Committee to Study the Administration of the Death Penalty, to reflect on what the California report found. Here are some excerpts:

Delays

“Thirty persons have been on California’s death row for more than 25 years; 119 have been on death row for more than 2o years; and 240 have been on death row for more than 15 years.”
(In Tennessee, by my count, there are 27 inmates on death row who have been there for 20 years or more. There are 16 inmates who have been there for 15-20 years.)

“The families of murder victims are cruelly deluded in to believing that justice will be delivered with finality during their lifetimes.”

Costs

“The additional cost of confining an inmate to death row, as compared to the maximum security prisons where those sentenced to life without parole ordinarily serve their sentences, is $90,000 per year per inmate.”
(There has been no thorough and complete study of the cost of Tennessee’s death penalty system in the modern era.)

Alternatives Offered

  • Narrowing the list of special circumstances that make a case eligible for a death sentence such as limiting aggravators and excluding felony murder as the basis for death eligibility
  • Establishing the maximum penalty at lifetime incarceration
  • Estimating and comparing the annual costs of available alternatives

Conclusion

“This report sets forth an ambitious and expensive agenda of reform. The failure to implement , however will be even more costly. The death penalty will remain a hollow promise to the people of California.”

Read the full report here.

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