SACRAMENTO — Officially, Proposition 34 is about whether to abolish the death penalty and replace it with life in prison. But that’s not the pertinent question.
The death penalty already effectively has been abolished in California. Capital punishment exists only in fantasyland. Condemned killers essentially have been living out their natural lives behind bars.
The relevant question is whether we should keep pouring tax money down a rat hole, feeding a broken system that shows no signs of ever being fixed.
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So for me, Prop. 34 is not about the merits of capital punishment. It’s about whether we should keep paying extravagantly for something we’re not getting.
The November ballot measure is relatively simple compared to most other initiatives. It would repeal California’s death penalty and replace it with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
It would apply retroactively to the 729 convicted killers already sentenced to death. They and future murderers would be tossed into the general prison population and treated like other convicts — double-bunked and required to work.
Current death row inmates at San Quentin are relatively coddled — in their own private cells with personal TVs and extensive access to the recreation yard.
“They’re allowed to go to the exercise yard seven days a week, up to six hours a day, or they can lay in their cell and watch TV seven days a week if they want,” says Jeanne Woodford, a former San Quentin warden and ex-director of the state corrections department. She’s a leading proponent of Prop. 34.
“They don’t work because there’s no work for death row inmates. So they’re not required to pay restitution to victims’ families.” They would be under Prop. 34.
The legislative analyst estimates that state and county governments ultimately would save about $130 million annually by repealing the death penalty.
Over an initial four-year span, $100 million would be doled out to local law enforcement agencies to help solve homicide and sex crimes.
“In California on average each year,” Woodford says, “46% of murders and 56% of reported rapes go unsolved. The best way to prevent crime is to solve it. The more solved crimes, the lower the crime rate. That’s really the deterrent to crime.”
Don’t read me wrong. You won’t see any arguments here about the death penalty being immoral, unfair or barbaric. I don’t buy it. These creeps — once proven guilty beyond a shadow of doubt — should be removed from our planet ASAP.
It’s just that a condemned man in California is far more likely to die of old age than execution. In all, 57 have died of natural causes and 21 from suicide.
The death penalty isn’t a deterrent? Anyone executed will never kill again. Moreover, it’s deserved punishment. Any mercy should be up to the depraved killer’s God.
We might execute an innocent man? That may have occurred in other states, but no one can point to it ever happening in California in modern times.
Former Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti, however, worries about the innocence question. As a prosecutor, he sent dozens to death row. With 729 currently housed on the row, “I just have to believe that there are at least a couple who are factually innocent,” he says. “We’re all human beings. We make mistakes.”
Garcetti strongly supports Prop. 34, but principally because of the wasted money issue.
“I’m not absolutely opposed morally to the death penalty,” he says, “but I’ve concluded that in California it serves no useful purpose, it doesn’t work and it’s not fixable. The costs are obscene.