With a new study projecting that enforcing the death penalty will cost taxpayers $5 billion through 2030, Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Oakland, plans to introduce legislation in the coming days to ban capital punishment in the state.
In a study to be published next week in the Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review, U.S. 9th Circuit Judge Arthur Alarcon and Loyola Law School professor Paula Mitchell say that all the legal and security expenses exclusively tied in with maintaining a death row add $184 million a year to the state's budget.
Hancock, who heads both the Senate Public Safety Committee and the Senate Budget Subcommittee on Corrections, said the state shouldn't bankrupt itself enforcing "a failed policy." Her announcement coincided with the release of the study and the state's unresolved budget situation.
"Today we're not tough on crime; we're tough on the taxpayer," Hancock said in a press release. "Every time we spend money on failed policies like the death penalty, we drain money from having more police officers on the street, more job training, more education, more of the things that would truly make for safer communities."
Rather than wait until December to introduce the ban for consideration next year, a spokesman for Hancock said she would replace the text of an existing bill. That would allow a ban to reach the governor's desk by September. The exact vehicle and language are not yet known.
Hancock said the sentences of the 714 people on death row should be converted to life sentences without the possibility of parole. Beyond costs, she said the state should avoid killing people who were later found to be innocent.
The study by Mitchell and Alarcon is titled "Executing the Will of the Voters: A Roadmap to Mend or End the California Legislature's Multi-Billion-Dollar Death Penalty Debacle."
It found abolishing capital punishment would save California about $1 billion every five years.
The Senate Public Safety Committee's top Republican, Sen. Joel Anderson, R-Alpine, said reforming the "lengthy appeals process" for death row inmates was one way to save money and use death row "as a temporary holding facility not a retirement home."
There have been 13 executions in California since the state Legislature authorized capital punishment in 1978. Illinois banned capital punishment in March, becoming the sixteenth state to do so.
PHOTO CREDIT: A correctional officer talks to a condemned inmate at San Quentin State Prison in 2003. Brian Baer / Sacramento Bee.