SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A state lawmaker on Monday introduced a bill seeking a public vote on whether California should abolish capital punishment and convert death sentences to life in prison, citing a study that said most condemned inmates die of suicide or old age despite billions in taxpayer costs.

Democratic Sen. Loni Hancock, of Berkeley, said the state can no longer afford the cost of trying capital cases, defending them through a lengthy appeals process and housing inmates in the nation’s most populous death row.

She cited a study prepared by Judge Arthur L. Alarcon of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and Loyola Law School professor Paula M. Mitchell that calls the capital punishment system “a multibillion-dollar fraud on California taxpayers.”

Their analysis, to be published next month, estimates California has spent more than $4 billion on capital punishment since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978. In that time, California has executed just 13 inmates, which works out to $308 million per execution.

“Capital punishment is an expensive failure and an example of the dysfunction of our prisons,” Hancock said in a statement. “California’s death row is the largest and most costly in the United States. It is not helping to protect our state; it is helping to bankrupt us.”

They said the cumulative cost to California taxpayers will swell to $9 billion by 2030 while the condemned unit at San Quentin State Prison in Marin County will have more than 1,000 occupants by 2014.

There are 714 California inmates now awaiting execution. That’s nearly twice the number than in Florida, the state with the next largest death row population, according to the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C.

On average, executions take 20 years to carry out from the time of sentencing. No one has been put to death in California since 2006 because of an ongoing legal challenge to how the state carries out executions by lethal injection and, more recently, a shortage of execution drugs.

Of inmates who had been awaiting execution, 78 have died of suicide or natural causes.

Hancock’s bill would amend state law to require life in prison without parole for those convicted of what are now capital crimes. It would put the question before voters on the November 2012 ballot.

One Republican lawmaker said Hancock’s bill was misguided.

“I appreciate that they’re trying to save money, but I don’t think we should put a price on justice,” said Sen. Joel Anderson, of La Mesa.

Anderson, vice chairman of the Senate Public Safety Committee, said costs could be reduced by streamlining the appeals process for death row inmates and carrying out executions more quickly.

“Death row was never intended to be a retirement home,” he said.

California taxpayers spend $184 million annually on costs associated with the death penalty, according to the study. The authors included a number of factors, including: the increased legal costs of trying capital cases, which they project at more than $1 million more than other murder cases; years of state and federal appeals; and the additional cost of $90,000 per inmate to keep condemned prisoners on death row instead of in the general prison population.

Hancock needs only a majority of lawmakers to approve her bill in a Legislature controlled by Democrats. Gov. Jerry Brown, also a Democrat, has said he personally opposes the death penalty but defended the law when he was attorney general.

Brown vetoed the Legislature’s reinstatement of the death penalty in 1977 during his first tour in the governor’s office, only to be overridden. In April, Brown scrapped plans for a $356 million death row expansion, saying the state cannot justify the expense at a time of massive budget cuts to essential services.

Whether voters agree is another matter.

A Field Poll last July found that 70 percent of Californians favored the death penalty, up from 66 percent in 2009. Support had slipped from the mid-1980s, when the death penalty was favored by as much as 83 percent of voters.

Hancock’s bill, SB490, is scheduled for its first hearing July 5 in the Assembly Public Safety Committee.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

Comments (17)
  1. Jo Ann Jones says:

    Does not surprise me that this bill is coming from a Senator from Berkeley. The prisons are overcrowded now. Let’s just carry out the sentence on those that are on Death Row now, quit putting drug addicts in prison. I am a supporter of the death penalty. California cannot continue to be so damn lenient on murderers, rapists and murders and ask us to support their lifetime stay in our prisons.

  2. A says:

    I say that we relocate all of them to ISOLATED islands in the Pacific Northwest to rot TOGETHER without any food, shelter, potable water or TAX PAYER MONEY!!! My father was murdered when I was only twelve years old. I don’t think that a death sentence in which the murderer lives a sh^t load of years on the tax payer’s dime does any justice and a swift government sponsored execution is just to kind. Forgive me for not being kind and forgiving after 27 years without a father.

  3. P Smith says:

    California has a death penalty? We sure don’t use it! Three appeals and you’re done – none of the twenty plus appeals. Only benefit to that is the lawyers make money while the victims and/or their families suffer longer. If we had a death penalty that was actually used and more promptly, it would deter the criminal. It’s a joke now.

  4. Catherine says:

    This is seriously obsurd. California barely uses the death penalty anyway, but THEY NEED TO! I don’t want to pay for people in prison. Just end em, and be done.

  5. Scott says:

    This is just a thought, why not actually use the death penalty, i mean a rope at home depo is what…$15.00 and can be used more then 1 time….save us millions in tax dollares and clear up the prisons. That and it will show criminals that this state is not going to play around anymore. Like I said, just a thought.

  6. noah says:

    It’s funny how all of these people in California claim they are religious and yet want to excute people???? Trust me I get what anger is, I get how mad you would be if someone harmed a family member…I get it! But what are we teaching our children….Hey if someone murders we murder back……Maybe colombine and all of these other crazy azz people in the world would start changinging if we would be the change we wanted the world to be…..I tell my son the death penalty is wrong….I think if someone is tried in a society of laws then we have the right to jail them….Here is my defense…..Before I could agree to murdering-executing another human I would have to know every prosecutor in the USA has never convicted the wrong man in the last …lets say 20 years…. Then I would have to be able to have some show me in the bible where it says it is ok to strap someone down in a cross like fashion like jesus and murder him, next I would have to ask my self could this person better serve on a chanin gang or in a coal mine working for free or picking vegetables (so we could replace the illegal immigration workers) or better off dead…. In my mind life should be a life of hard labor picking farmers fields for free to lower the cost at least by 75% of our food. a couple snipers at each end of the field and a death shot if you run….thats justice my friends….

    1. NoahIsSatnLike says:

      Nosh, have you not read the bible. Where do you think the phrase and “Eye for an Eye and a Tooth for a Tooth” came from? The old testiment talks about stoning people to death. Read the bible and there are a ton of examples of just punishment for a just crime. Our God is a tough God that does not put up with things like murder.

      1. Noah says:

        I do read my friend, but ” eye for an eye” you are taking out of context and trying to use it as it fits your defense. The hebrew meaning was to make The phrase, “an eye for an eye”, (ayin tachat ayin, literally ‘an eye in place of an eye’), is a quotation from several passages of the Hebrew Bible [1][2][3] in which a person who has injured the eye of another is instructed to pay compensation. It defined and restricted the extent of retribution in the laws of the Torah

    2. Tom says:

      Shotting them as they run isn’t that murder to ya liberal

      1. noah says:

        If they are escaping prison and they are a threat then they have chose to end there life, strapping them down in a chair and leaving them to think about whats on tv, or getting 3 meals and a relaxed life style of books and magazines etc….seems kina a non deturent style form of punishment… I say have them labor to pay back the cost of legal fees and to the victims…..If someone breaks in your home and attacks you and you defend your self I don’t think god will find you in the wrong…..If a prisoner is trying to escape then he has made that choice but his life was his own…. Trials in this country have killed to many innocent men for me to feel strapping someone to a chair is 100% the best way…Liberal….I think not…..Just have an opinion

  7. Noah says:

    Like your name in this blog, we can move past the “i have watched to many movies eye for an eye bit” and ask your self this, God has given us the ability to build wonderful things, He also gives us the genius to destroy such a world and now our world spends most days trying to play chest with its self hoping that we don’t all blow each other up measuring who has the bigger stick. Maybe god gave us the power to take lives, but just maybe we should save murdering others for evil people and we can show that we have tolerance, and the ability to not act out of anger and even though wrong has been done maybe we can start to become better human beings. We are not weak for teaching our children that we can place a man in a life of hard labor to reduce the cost of our lands, but just to murder someone makes us no less evil then him. You can not raise children in a world where we as humans make it ok to murder someone else and then try to convince them we are still pure or are peacefull people…. Look what happened to rome, look what happened in the civil war more the 600,000 people died fighting to free the slaves to right a wrong, free men died to do the right thing, maybe just because we read someplace capitol punishment is ok, maybe that to is a test that we are failing…..seems to me people use to say how the old west was violent days, but if you ask me our country has done a lot of killing in the last 80 years!

  8. rmcsticks says:

    Dear Noah : Your a fool and its people like you that the prisons are over run with slim……You speak of how they should be picking vegies in the field and in the same breath you cry out for their rights as a human…. they are not human they are ANIMALS humans dont kill and rape !!!! And you speak of the chruch : Christ we have prest raping kids and the church just hides them. So stop with the crying $hit and step aside and the rest of us will take care of your fammily because your thinking is what got us in this mess….. and as for the person or persons that want to stop the death penalty , they are short lived in office, the people are tired of them and YOU…..I could go on and on but we are tired of talking to the stupid ones like you… your probly a nice person but you dont live in the real world…..

    1. Noah says:

      LOL, it’s funny how you and others have to try and attack a person personally VS just the opinions. I am not crying never said I was…..They are not humans they are animals? Well that seems to not warrant any comment accept for this…. Our war on “terror has killed over 200,000 innocent women and children and men ….. so in your mind us killing all of those children and women turned out a just or a non crying or a “get the animals” result??? 1000 women are murdered and raped in the congo every day and we do not intervene to stop this…yet we go to war placing our country in financial ruin killing more Americans for the proffit of a few….Oh is this how you will protect my family…..Want me to step aside…..? well my friend to many honest Americans have stepped aside for to long while our tax dollars go to fund wars that proffit for the few as it ruins our country, and instead of creating a better justice system, instead of creating a better treatment system for all of the drug addicts and such, we spend billions to put 13 people to death…. That seems about as accurate as our “wars on terror”….I am not liberal I served in the Marines but I do have a brain and if you think I want to “step aside” so people like you can continue to runi this country I think I will not. The church of any kind should pay taxes, if a priest molest a child then he should go do life in prison, and I don’t feel any prison should be a place of rest but a life of hard labor…..Lets see…hmmm go to prison and watch tv and sleep all day and do drugs….or go to prison and work from 5am to 5pm, I still feel killing folks other then protecting yourself from imminent danger is not what god wants. Maybe ask your self this ….why did russia just spend the same amount on a new military as Obama did on our new debt bail out……American cars are not made in America, we import everything from china, we have almost no factories for Americans to work in, and california spends 40% of its prison budget to house illegal immigrants, and we spend twice the amount of our prison budget on welfare,transalation,govt assitance, unemployment on illegal aliens,medical care as well needs no words, but how many Americans do you know that are in a bad spot…….Every choice this country makes reflects the problems we keep making, you say im the problem I say your weak, you say im a liberal because I have an opinion I say at least I say what I think, you make slurrs and attack opinions I say California is in ruins because not enough people will stand up for what they think….You say I am a fool, well have of every dollar we make goes to our Govt and .25 of every $1.00 goes to our prisons in CA as they sit and watch tv……I say why not have them pick fields, dig ditches, build roads, anyone know how much Caltrans makes???/ You think you smart becaus eyou agree with killing people, well out of all of the death penalty cases why not google and readon on how many innocent men have been killed by a mistake and ask your self what happens if that was you or your kids strapped to a chair getting ready to die and you r innocent? If the Animals deserve to die then lets at least allow them to die by the hand of other evil men amongst them selves, and place them to a life of labor to give back to society. We make money we pay taxes to try a capitols case cost hundreds of thousands at least they can pay it back… You speak like a kid who was bullied…….waaaa we have to get them cus they got us….Yes they killed… I got it…not going to make me sleep better knowing they got the easy way out……If my roads cost the state half of what it does or my tomatoes cost only a qaurter I would feel like things where a little better…..But hay your rite California is going bankrupt your whole death penalty thing has worked out great…13 guys in 40 years at the cost of billions……Your smart

  9. rmcsticks says:

    As I read the things you write I have seen that you are a bigger Idot then I thought…so you think if we had not had a civil war ( and yes I don’t think it was the way but it was the time) 600,000 men would still be alive but slavery would just go away by itself…….the more you speak the more you hurt the chuch ( or should I say bring it to light) NOAH GET BACK ON THE BOAT !

  10. noah says:

    How is me saying good men who had nothing to do or did not believe in slavery died to do the right thing make me an idiot…I am saying that people do the right thing because it is wright not easy….Killing a man who could be innocent is far worse then any crime the true murderer commits. This is like a grade school forum….really the name calling over an opinion….well try this….. The country has done so well in the last 20 years with our debt and all of our wars and our crime rates…..Maybe it’s time true Americans start taking this country back so we can give Americans with your thinking a job. Go to wall street journal more then 30% of american jobs will be lost to foriegn countrys or illegal immigrants with in this country…… I hope everyone was not depending on a 401k or some type of govt retirement….Look up about our stock exchange…did you see that the NY stock exchange was sold to Germans? Yup thats correct….. your so blind and yet you call me names…lets see 13 guys put to death and it cost billions…..yup your smart

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