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August 30, 2011

New push in California for 2012 ballot initiative to abolish the state's death penalty

As reported in this article in the Sacramento Bee, "advocates of abolishing the death penalty in California announced a new effort Monday to take the matter directly to voters next year."  Here is more:

Organizers say they will push for a ballot measure to focus the public's attention on the high cost of keeping inmates on death row -- $4 billion since 1978, according to one estimate -- and offer guarantees that condemned prisoners could never win release from prison....

Under the plan offered by the group, which calls itself Savings Accountability and Full Enforcement, or SAFE, condemned inmates would be given life without the possibility of parole and would be required to work in prison.  Contending that $184 million is spent annually in California on the death penalty, the group said the initiative would take savings from abolishing it and instead spend $30 million a year in the first three years on unsolved murder and rape cases....

Kent Scheidegger, legal director for the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation in Sacramento, said the people pushing for abolition are the ones who have contributed to the high cost of the death penalty. "The death penalty doesn't need to cost anywhere as much as it does," he said. "The only reason it does is that the very same people who are complaining about costs have succeeded in killing every reform we have." Scheidegger contends reforming the appeals process could cut years off the average time it takes from sentencing to execution, eventually cutting that time down to five years.

Currently, death row houses more than 700 inmates, some of whom have been there for decades. Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978, 13 inmates have been put to death at San Quentin, two by cyanide gas and 11 by lethal injection....

Advocates of repealing the death penalty say they will need up to $1.5 million to gather the more than 500,000 valid signatures needed to get the measure on the ballot.

August 30, 2011 at 08:35 AM | Permalink

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Comments

Kent,

Thanks for keeping an eye on the budget-busting California abolitionists.

The Financial Accounting Standards Board is impressed.

You take "regression" analysis to a whole new level.

Posted by: Bill Arthur | Aug 30, 2011 3:45:11 PM

I am curious what the others on this board who believe in sentencing reform feel about the following concerns.

While I believe in abolishing the death penalty in California, if those of us who believe in sentencing and prison reform are going to spend the tremendous amount of money and effort that will be required in such a fight, don't we have a responsibility to think a bit more carefully about the content of the initiative? Don't you think that the prison guards union will be more than happy to see us wasting our time on this relatively minor issue? They are probably laughing their heads off and giving each other high fives.

Relative to a reform that, for example, reduced the prison population by 20%, that permanently reduced sentences, permanently changed the guidelines for parole boards, or scores of other significant reforms that have been proposed by researchers and activists over the years, abolition would have a minor human and financial impact.

Plus the nature of this reform creates an issue that is squarely social/moral in nature and invites the whole death penalty debate.

If we are going to put something on the ballot and go to all this trouble, we should put on the ballot whatever set of reforms will most reduce the prison population. We should work for its passage on a campaign that squarely addresses the union issue and how we are now wasting a huge percentage of our budget on needless incarceration because the prison guards union has hijacked our political process so that their members can earn $140,000 a year plus generous benefits.

Let's not invite the whole death penalty red herring. Let's stay focused on the real issue: the corruption of our political process by the prison guards union and the resultant needless incarceration of tens of thousands of people for the sole purpose of giving them job security.

Let's not ignore the elephant in the room. Let's talk about it. Let's put it on the ballot.

Posted by: James | Aug 30, 2011 9:55:13 PM

James --

Wouldn't the most socially useful way to reduce the prison population by 20% be for prospective criminals to reduce their contemplated activity by 20%?

If they are unwilling to do that, why is it up to crime victims to bail them out?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Aug 31, 2011 7:50:26 AM

James stated: "If we are going to put something on the ballot and go to all this trouble, we should put on the ballot whatever set of reforms will most reduce the prison population."

And there you have it. Prison "reform" is not about making them more efficient, more rehabilitative, or giving Californians the best bang for their buck. It is merely about finding the best way to "most reduce the prison population" without regard for community safety, rehabilitation, and, yes, punishment.

James stated: "We should work for its passage on a campaign that squarely addresses the union issue and how we are now wasting a huge percentage of our budget on needless incarceration because the prison guards union has hijacked our political process so that their members can earn $140,000 a year plus generous benefits."

I agree that the pay for Cali prison guards is outrageous. The $140,000 number is probably somewhat misleading though. I believe it is in the $90,000 range as a base, taking some significant overtime to reach $140,000. And it should also be noted that there is no other state to my knowledge that even comes close to that level of ridiculous compensation.

And this is not a case of the "prison guards union hijacking the political process." It is a case of ALL public sector unions, which includes the prison union, doing so. I know this is a law policy blog, but let's be evenhanded. The same ones complaining about prison guard unions are usually supporting the public teachers unions, because they are all about "the children." Yeah, right.

James stated: "Let's stay focused on the real issue: the corruption of our political process by the prison guards union and the resultant needless incarceration of tens of thousands of people for the sole purpose of giving them job security."

LOL Sure. "Needless incarceration." Just a bunch of good, clean living people who do nothing but care for their children and work hard every day that were caught up into "the system."

Posted by: TarlsQtr | Aug 31, 2011 9:43:13 AM

Yes, much of the incarceration is needless, literally needless. We incarcerate five to eight times more people as a percentage of our citizenry than other civilized nations to no effect. Our massively greater sentences and incarceration rates do not increase public safety or reduce crime. They do create profits for private prison corporations and jobs for prison guards.

Let go of your irrational fear. No one is saying let everyone out of prison. All that is being pointed out is that things have gotten completely out of control to the point of insanity in terms of sentencing lengths and incarceration rates in this country. Do you look forward to financing the health care expense associated with all of these needless prisoners as they age? I sure don't.

As for the California prison guards union, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, there is no comparison between them and the teachers union or any other union that I am aware of in the history of unions.

It is a matter of record that they have set about consciously to do exactly what I described - to hijack the political process. They did this by playing upon the public's fear of crime, increasing sentences and incarceration rates, increasing their membership and dues base, buying candidates, increasing sentences, increasing their membership and dues base, buying more politicians, playing some more on public fears and the legislative process, further increasing sentences and incarcerations rates, further increasing their membership and dues base, further increasing the number of politicians they own, and so on and so on over the last 30 years. They are now the strongest lobby and the strongest political force in California bar none.

I realize that some may live in other states and may not be so well acquainted with these facts, but there there is very little crossover between the CCPOA and the ideological issues surrounding public sector unions in general.

Posted by: James | Aug 31, 2011 9:43:44 PM

hmm

actualy tarlsqtr

"And there you have it. Prison "reform" is not about making them more efficient, more rehabilitative, or giving Californians the best bang for their buck. It is merely about finding the best way to "most reduce the prison population" without regard for community safety, rehabilitation, and, yes, punishment."

the criminals running calif had TWENTY PLUS YEARS! to do this easily; simply; and smartly! but like most govt! they REFUSE to use a brain! NOW of course the COURTS HAVE TO USE A SLADGEHAMMER! which seems to be the only thing these idiots understand!

this would be the point where the public of calif needs to vote and say guess what you idiots had TWENTY YEARS to do this and FOUGHT IT the whole damn way! NOW YOUR ALL GONE! and then vote every sitting politican OUT!

Posted by: rodsmith | Sep 1, 2011 1:14:21 AM

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