SACRAMENTO, CALIF. - A comprehensive study of California's death penalty hands taxpayers a three-fold choice: spend millions reforming the death sentencing system, drastically narrow its use, or replace it with permanent imprisonment.
The first-of-its-kind, 145-page report released today by the non-partisan California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice (CCFAJ), highlights many problems, including scarce funds for the defense of poor people facing death sentences, a decades-long appeals process, and the risk that innocent people will be executed.
'The conclusion to be drawn from this review is obvious,' said Ramona Ripston, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California (ACLU/SC). 'The death penalty costs Californians too much, risks innocent lives and robs resources from our crime fighters. It's time to replace this unjust system with permanent imprisonment.'
The CCFAJ report cited several studies prepared by the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California (ACLU/NC), including The Hidden Death Tax: The secret Costs of Seeking Execution, the first report to review the actual records of trial expenses in death penalty cases, and Death by Geography: a County-by-County Analysis of the Road to Execution.
The Hidden Death Tax revealed that California spends $117 million each year on the 673 people currently on Death Row -- nearly $175,000 per inmate per year. Death by Geography shows that the vast majority of California counties have given up the death penalty: only 10 counties account for nearly 85 percent of death sentences since 2000. And the CCFAJ report also notes that California's proposed Death Row facility will cost at least $395 million to build and more than $1 billion to operate over the next 20 years, according to the California State Auditor.
'We should all be embarrassed and outraged at our death system: Hundreds of people on Death Row without lawyers; hundreds of millions of dollars wasted; 70 percent of the death penalty cases upheld by the state reversed by the higher courts; innocent people in line to be executed. That is shameful,' said Eric Greene, Special Policy Assistant at the ACLU/SC. 'This is a system we cannot trust. This is a system we cannot afford.'
Evidence presented to the CCFAJ showed that those convicted of killing white victims are far more likely to be sentenced to death than convicts whose victims are Latino or African-American. But even with this information, the commission's report does not call for immediate reform.
The ACLU-NC called on the CCFAJ to recommend that California institute proportionality review, a procedure used by most states to mitigate racial disparities. Instead, the Commission recommended more study before any remedies are adopted.
'Californians expect and demand a criminal justice system that treats all people equally, regardless of race and class,' said Natasha Minsker, Death Penalty Policy Director of the ACLU/NC. 'We cannot continue to ignore the evidence that our death penalty is not fairly applied.'