Prop. 34 considers fiscal case against costly death penalty

Proposition 34 would replace the death penalty in California with life in prison and retroactively change the sentences of people already on death row.

Opponents of the death penalty point out that it is a draconian punishment that has killed innocent people in the name of justice. Proponents believe the punishment should fit the crime. But all such arguments should be set aside when considering Prop. 34.

People on both sides of the debate should be able to find common ground by considering the fiscal impacts of the death penalty. Simply put, attempting to enforce the death penalty is vastly more costly than resorting to life in prison. A study out of Loyola Law School has estimated that California could save $180 million a year by passing Prop. 34.

Trials in which the death penalty is considered can be long and arduous. Taxpayers first foot the bill for a decision about whether the punishment will be considered. And once inmates are on death row, they retain many avenues for subsequent legal appeals. It makes sense for the system to let them try to save their lives, but the lengthy appeals process racks up legal bills.

Since the punishment was reinstated in 1978, California has spent about $4 billion on this system while executing only 13 people in the state, one study shows. One could argue that the administration of justice should not be determined on a purely economic basis. But given the huge costs of our current failed policy, that is a poor argument.

The state should not continue to spend billions of dollars on a punishment that has never been proven to be effective as a deterrent to future crimes. And Prop. 34 would steer $100 million back to the kind of law enforcement efforts actually known to help communities reduce crime.

It also is not fair that the threat of the death penalty currently looms most heavily over people from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds who lack effective legal representation at trial.

Voters can take a step toward real reform by voting yes on Prop. 34.

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