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June 13, 2007

Suicides pass executions on death row in California

I suppose it is no surprise to learn that it is very depressing to be on death row.  However, as this AP story documents, death row suicides in California have reached a notable modern milestone:

The latest death at San Quentin Prison marked a gruesome landmark that underscored just how jammed up the state's capital punishment system has become: Suicides have now supplanted executions as the second leading cause of death on California's death row.  Tony Lee Reynolds' death Sunday was the 14th suicide, one more than the number of condemned inmates executed in California, since the state reinstated capital punishment in 1978.

There are now 666 inmates on death row, according to the Department of Corrections, and executions have been halted now for 16 months by a federal judge who ordered prison officials to revise their lethal injection procedures to ensure inmates don't suffer unnecessarily.... Thirty-eight inmates have died of natural causes, the leading cause of death... [and] the average stay on death row is 17.5 years before execution.

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June 13, 2007 at 12:25 AM | Permalink


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I find it ironic (and that may not be the right word) that this high suicide rate on death row is considered a comment on the "clogged" capital appeals process rather than evidence that death is viewed more favorably than life in prison. Rather than examine the life imprisonment vs. death question, they just want to blame these - in the parlance of the pro-death penalty crowd - excessive appeals.

Posted by: AJG | Jun 13, 2007 8:57:34 AM

AJG, that's possible, but perhaps death would not be viewed "more favorably" than life imprisonment by those who commit suicide on Death Row if they did not have death hanging over their head on the legal system's terms rather than on their own.

I rather prefer to view such occurrences as an unforeseen budget cut benefitting the people of California. That is unless Tony Lee Reynolds was innocent, but I believe the track record shows that anyone who goes by a tripartite name is de facto guilty.

Posted by: Ben D | Jun 13, 2007 9:31:50 AM

"I find it ironic (and that may not be the right word) that this high suicide rate on death row is considered a comment on the 'clogged' capital appeals process...."

Who considers the high suicide rate to be such a comment, AJG? My quote in the story certainly does not.

When somebody compares two numbers, you have to look at both. The fact that the number of suicides exceeds the number of executions as the result of two problems, the high rate of suicides and the low rate of executions. My point was that the latter is the primary problem.

That the capital appeals process in California is indeed clogged is indisputable. No need for quote marks.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Jun 13, 2007 1:09:29 PM

California legislature passes death row suicide bill.

(AP) In what at first glance appears to be a Swiftian modest proposal, California is serious. After the 14th suicide on death row, a number higher than the actual execution count of 13 since 1978, the government decided to take a stand.

“How can we protect the public from these murderers if they kill themselves?” Governor Schwarzenegger proclaimed. “My top priority is to protect the public and that is the government’s gravest responsibility. I will sign the bill.”

The bill is SB 666, sponsored by Senator Killjoy. "Due to long delays with the appellate process, these criminals are robbing the public of its right to execute them. What can we do? Not prosecute them for robbery."

Senator Killjoy's solution was inspired by an episode of "The Sopranos." "Now that's a deterent!" the senator said.

His inspiration was the dismembering of Ralph Cifaretto after Tony suspected Ralph of killing his horse, Pie-O-My. Tony killed Ralph in a confrontation and then Tony and Christopher dismembered Ralph's body for easy disposal.

"Just think of all the real estate it would save," Killjoy said. "San Quentin's inmate graveyeard is getting full, and that is on some valuable San Fransicio real estate. We could bury three bodies in the space of one."

"Senator Killjoy's bill is typical," said Barry Scheck of the innocence Project. "Ralh Cifaretto was likely innocent of killing Tony's horse. Rather than dismembering death row inmates who commit suicide, we really should invest in better police investigative procedures."

"These criminals are guilty. Period. They had fair trials before a jury of their peers and were found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt," said Kent Scheidegger, an expert on criminal justice. "I do not agree with Senator Killjoy what we should deter them from committing suicide, however. It saves taxpayers money when they do."

April Softheart of The Caged Animals Project agrees. "I never thought I would agree with Mr. Scheidegger on anything, but on this issue, we do agree. The real issue though is death row conditions so inhumane dogs in dog pounds are treated better. Who wouldn't want to commit suicide?"

Some posters at a sentencing blog, sentencing.typepad.com, volunteered to dismember any death row inmate who robbed the state of its right to execute them.

"What else can we do?" said federalist, a die-hard death penalty advocate. "If the inmate's family has any property, we should confiscate that too to pay for their housing and appeals all those years. Death shouldn't come cheap and easy."

Posted by: George | Jun 13, 2007 3:58:45 PM

Where's S.cotus when you need him (or her)? Does my proposal to seize members of the family's property "work corruption of Blood"?

Posted by: federalist | Jun 13, 2007 6:15:35 PM

Good question. S.cotus? Why not just call it a regulation and get around that?

Posted by: George | Jun 13, 2007 11:14:54 PM

Where's S.cotus when you need him (or her)? Does my proposal to seize members of the family's property "work corruption of Blood"?

Posted by: Jordan Retro | Nov 14, 2010 1:41:36 AM

Where's S.cotus when you need him (or her)? Does my proposal to seize members of the family's property "work corruption of Blood"

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