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California's Death Penalty: Unusual but Not Cruel

Big Government contributor Charles C. Johnson writes against California’s bid to abolish capital punishment in the Los Angeles Times. He thanks Big Government contributor and past assemblyman Chuck Devore of the Texas Public Policy Foundation for the Texas and California death penalty comparisons.


With a drug cocktail that puts death row inmates to sleep, California’s capital punishment can hardly be said to be cruel — but it is so unusual that death row inmates in the Golden State routinely die of old age or by suicide. When, or more likely if, justice comes, it doesn’t come cheap. By some estimates, it costs $100,000 a year per prisoner to keep California’s 718 inmates alive on death row, thanks in part to the endless, often frivolous appeals brought by inmates and death penalty opponents. If capital punishment is prohibitively expensive, it is because those professionally seeking to abolish it have made it so.

Even death penalty supporters, such as Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye of the California Supreme Court, have given up. “I don’t think it is working,” the newly appointed chief justice told The Times last week. California’s death penalty requires “structural change, and we don’t have the money.” Still, Californians need a “merit-based discussion on its effectiveness and costs.” But the chief justice ignored why that load continues to mount: death penalty opponents.


Death penalty foes have seized on the cost issue for their latest attempt at killing it off. Led by Natasha Minsker of the ACLU of Northern California, they are gathering signatures to put the so-called SAFE California initiative on the November 2012 ballot. Minsker’s co-written report, “California’s Death Penalty Is Dead,” concedes that it is the appeals process that clogs the courts, noting that “death penalty trials cost up to 20 times more than trials for life imprisonment without the possibility of parole…. Taxpayers are legally required to pay for numerous appeals in death penalty cases, unlike cases involving life without possibility of parole, where the prisoner gets only one taxpayer-funded appeal.”

Read more here.

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