Commentary: Dysfunctional Death Penalty

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(Sacramento, CA)
Friday, July 11, 2008

Whether you oppose or support the death penalty, as it is applied in California today, clearly it’s not working.

Only 13 people have been executed in this state since the death penalty was reinstated in 1977. With 673 condemned prisoners, California has the largest death row population by far of any state, but convicts here are much more likely to die of old age than lethal injections.

For the few who are put to death, it takes on average 17 years from sentence to execution. Those condemned wrongfully can wait more than a decade to have their cases overturned. It costs 137 million dollars a year to administer this broken system. It will cost almost 100 million more to fix it.

But fixing is not the only option. The new study considered two alternatives:

First - reduce the number of special circumstances that make almost 87 percent of all first degree murderers eligible for execution in California. Reserve death for the worst of the worst.

Second - replace death with life in prison, and eliminate the real possibility that California might one day execute an innocent person.

Fix it, or end it. The dysfunctional status quo is not an option.


Ginger Rutland writes for The Sacramento Bee opinion pages.