Why is California Rushing to Kill Albert Brown?

September 23, 2010

California has not put anyone to death in nearly 5 years.  Litigation around the state’s lethal injection procedures has led to a de facto moratorium on executions.  But that moratorium may come to a sudden end this Wednesday, when Albert Greenwood Brown is scheduled to be killed shortly after midnight.

The legal issues surrounding California’s method of killing its prisoners have not been fully resolved, yet the state is asserting that executions should be restarted anyway.  But what for?

California has by far the nation’s largest death row, with over 700 inmates, and soaks its taxpayers for upwards of $100 million per year for the privilege of having a death penalty.  Over $800,000 was spent on a new lethal injection chamber which contains two things – a gurney and a clock.  And hundreds of millions more are going to build a new death row. Capital punishment in California (and elsewhere) is a money pit.  Millions of dollars get tossed in, but nothing good ever comes out.

California taxpayers are beginning to see the death penalty for what it is – a colossal waste of resources.  For a state that doesn’t even have a budget and is currently furloughing workers, devoting such time and energy (and money) to killing a few prisoners who are already locked up for life is not just pointless and cruel.  It also diverts scarce resources that could be directed towards proven crime prevention measures and real support for victims’ families.

At the heart of the controversy that has halted executions in California is the question of how a state can kill its prisoners in a sufficiently humane way.  Of course, there is no answer to that question, because killing prisoners is inherently inhumane.  The sooner the state of California recognizes this fact and does away with its death penalty, the sooner they will be able to focus on policies that actually do some good.