A Billion Reasons to Cut Capital Punishment in California

June 30, 2010

California is broke and California’s capital punishment system is broken. To try and help out, the ACLU of Northern California has launched their “Cut This” campaign – advocating for cutting the death penalty to save the state money. How much money? Approximately $1 billion over the next five years. This money could be used for much needed social services such as healthcare, education, or for more resources for law enforcement.

It is well documented that in California, as elsewhere, it costs more to sentence someone to death than to give them life without the possibility of parole.  Information compiled by the ACLU of Northern California shows that, compared to non-death penalty trials, the cost of California capital cases is strikingly high.

According to the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, Capital punishment costs California taxpayers $137 million each year, whereas permanent imprisonment for all those currently on death row would cost just $11 million, a savings of $125 million each year, or $600 million over five years.  On top of all of that, $400 million is needed to construct a new death row, because the current facility is too old and overcrowded.   So, as mentioned above, that’s $1 billion over the next five years.

There are of course many reasons to oppose the death penalty beyond its prohibitive cost … it is a fundamental violation of human rights for the state to kill a prisoner.  The state has a responsibility to protect citizens from violence and provide support for victims and survivors of violence, but the death penalty does neither, and in fact diverts resources that could be better used to prevent crime and help victims.