« SCOTUSblog predicting that Acting SG Neal Katyal will get to officially become the next Tenth Justice | Main | Should we be pleased or frustrated when an accused murderer commits suicide while in custody? »

August 15, 2010

"What price is too high for death row?"

The question in the title of this post come from the headline of this editorial in today's Sacramento Bee. Here are excerpts:

In a twisted sense of timing, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has placed the exorbitant cost of California's theoretical death penalty squarely before the public again.

The Schwarzenegger administration announced last week that it plans to borrow $64.7 million from the state's cash-strapped general fund to accelerate construction of a new death row at San Quentin State Prison....

The $64.7 million is merely a down payment. Construction would cost about $360 million. Interest payments on 20-year bonds the state ordinarily would sell to finance the construction could add another $150 million or more to the final price tag....

The plan to build a shiny new 541,000-square-foot death row within San Quentin's boundaries underscores fundamental problems with capital punishment.  So long as there is a death penalty, the state will need to house, clothe and feed the inmates at huge costs.  San Quentin sits on prime bayfront property in Marin County. It could be sold for a fortune and turned into housing, a transit hub, a ferry port and much more.

However, lawmakers cannot agree to close San Quentin.  Nor are they prepared to abolish capital punishment, given that Californians support it by a wide margin.  The U.S. Supreme Court and California Supreme Court seem willing to permit the process to continue, knowing that it is more likely that someone will be struck by lightning than die by lethal injection or gas.

California has 706 condemned inmates, by far the largest condemned population of any state.  Since capital punishment was reinstated in California in 1978, 13 men have been put to death at San Quentin.  Another 73 others have died of suicide, drug overdose and natural causes, including one last week.

The longest serving inmate, Douglas R. Stankewitz, has been on death row since Oct. 13, 1978.  The oldest, David J. Carpenter, the "Trailside Killer," became an octogenarian this year.  There hasn't been an execution since January 2006, and there's no certainty there will be any executions any time soon.

In California, the death penalty is conceptual.  There simply are too many smart attorneys who can mount too many arguments that will persuade too many judges to place executions on hold.  So long as we retain this broken system, taxpayers will be condemned to pay the price – in this instance, about $500 million for a new death row.

August 15, 2010 at 09:42 AM | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference "What price is too high for death row?":


It'll be California's Kwai River bridge. Madness.

Posted by: John K | Aug 16, 2010 9:30:10 AM

Any injury that happens on a construction site is a terrible thing, but when a construction death occurs it affects families, friends and work colleagues to a deeper degree. There is no amount of compensation that can ever bring a loved one back from a construction death. Although provision is made by the State and the Construction Workers Pension Scheme to ensure that dependents are cared for in the short term, the death-in-service benefit (currently €63.500) would scarcely cover several years income.

Posted by: Construction Death | Dec 1, 2010 6:50:35 AM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB