California’s Expensive Death Penalty

A new study confirms the incredible costs of California’s death penalty procedures.  The study’s authors, 9th Circuit Judge Arthur Alarcon and Loyola Law School Professor Paula Mitchell, hold conflicting attitudes about the merits of capital punishment.  But they agree that California’s death penalty procedures exact untenable costs on taxpayers, and that the death penalty needs to be abolished or re-formulated.

The study’s most important bottom line is that California spends an additional $184 million PER YEAR on the death penalty, compared to the costs of trying and housing LWOP prisoners (serving life in prison without possibility of parole).  The reasons for the extra costs include housing (laws require greater security measures for death row inmates), longer trials and higher legal fees.

Of the 92 California death row inmates who have died since 1978, only 13 were executed; most of them died of natural causes while on death row.

California has a capital punishment system it can’t afford, run by a government that hasn’t been willing to change it.  Polling suggests still strong but clearly diminished for capital punishment.  Perhaps if more people understood that LWOP means what it says, and that LWOP inmates are never set free (except very occasionally when they are about to die), a majority of Californians will vote to spend their precious tax money on schools, medical care and community development rather than on the “worst of the worst.”