"We currently have a dysfunctional system," declares the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, a 10-member panel charged with evaluating the state's handling of the death penalty. Over $100 million is spent every year 'cruelly deluding families of murder victims that justice will be delivered with finality during their lifetimes.' California currently has almost 700 prisoners on death row, a number that would take twelve years to clear even if the state executed five prisoners every month. So what can be done? The panel recommends doubling spending to halve the average death row stay to the still-staggering national average of twelve years.
Considering California’s fiscal crisis, spending all of this money is not only unlikely, it’s impossible. And none of these proposed reforms would adequately address one of the most troubling flaws in California’s death penalty, the racial and geographic disparities that call the very fairness and justice of the system into question. Despite evidence and testimony from several researchers indicating that race and place play a significant role in determining who lives and who dies, proposed reforms to address these issues are noticeably lacking from the Commission’s report. Reforms that would begin to address those flaws would certainly cost more. Our second option, according to the Commission, is to acknowledge that we have the most extreme death penalty statute in the country, resulting in an insupportably large death row population, and that we can’t afford a system this big and bloated. We all agree that we want a criminal justice system that delivers justice fairly. The overwhelming demands of our current death penalty system, however, overburden courts, lawyers and public safety officials at every level, jeopardizing the foundations of our justice system. The Commission suggests that we could limit the number of crimes eligible for the death penalty in order to ease some of the burden. This would still cost more than $100 million a year, depending on how much smaller we make the “smaller death penalty.”
The final option is the most practical and affordable: replacing the death penalty with life imprisonment without parole. Life imprisonment is actually saves the state $200 million each year because there isn't as great a need to slog through the appeals process. The panel didn't make any recommendations, instead handing the decision to California voters, who can determine if the death penalty has really been worth the cost. It’s Official — California’s Death Penalty is a Multi-Million Dollar Failure. Now What? [ACLU] (Photo: World Coalition Against the Death Penalty)