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Death in Decline 09 a report by The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Northern California explores life imprisonment as an alternative to the death penalty. It also makes a correlation between the present financial crisis and fair trials. CJCJ’s recently released A Tax Payers Guide to the California Death Penalty” by Paul Comiskey provides an explanation of the death penalty process, including an analysis of fiscal and emotional costs. 

Capital punishment has a mandatory three level review process, thus a death penalty case may take between 25 to 30 years before execution with a reaching costs of up to $137 million per year. For example, the resources California spends on its 700 death row inmates could provide care for more than one million children in the Healthy Families program. The reality is that for the last thirty years 1 out of 100 inmates sentenced to death have actually been executed. Due to the lack of fiscal resources, there is an average of 42% of inmates on death row who are lacking the necessary defense attorneys in order to have their cases reviewed, which in turn increases delays in their cases. Denying funds for defense cases might lead to a significant increase of errors, leaving innocent people on death row. 

If California’s death penalty sentences continue to increase, California will run out of room for those inmates. As law mandates, inmates on death row need to be housed in single person cells. San Quentin has 680 cells designated for this population and it is currently housing 660 out of California’s 700 death row inmates. This would require building a housing facility designated for death row inmates. To build such a facility would cost approximately $396 million and another $1 billion to operate over 20 years. 

Here in California the end result is often the same in both circumstances because an individual sentenced to death often dies in prison prior to execution. Therefore, wouldn’t it be in the best interest of California to employ the most cost effective method? Those cost savings could be better utilized for programs promoting public safety. 

~Rebeca Ishii, CJCJ staff