California’s Death Penalty: All Cost, No Justice
UPDATE: On Wednesday, May 27, the Nebraska Legislature voted to override the Governor's veto and became the 19th streat to legally abandon the death penalty.
Today the Nebraska Legislature voted to pass a bill to repeal the death penalty, becoming the first state with a Republican-controlled legislature to pass such a bill. But Nebraska isn’t alone. In fact, it is the latest of several states to affirm that the death penalty has failed to deliver on its promise of swift justice.
For years now, the death penalty has rapidly been losing steam throughout the country, both legally and in practice. To date, 18 states have legally abandoned the death penalty. And over the last ten years, eight other states have either carried out zero executions or sent zero new people to death row.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center’s 2014 Year End Report, the country saw the lowest number of death sentences handed down in 40 years and the lowest number of executions in 20 years, with only seven states carrying out an execution in 2014. That’s huge.
A costly charade
Last year, a Field Poll also found that support for the death penalty was falling rapidly in California, with voters’ support at its lowest point in half a century. Yet California still shamefully has the largest and costliest death row in the country – even though the last execution took place almost a decade ago.
Since the death penalty was reinstated in California in 1978, taxpayers have spent over $4 billion to prop up the defunct system. There are currently 750 men and women on death row. Most die of old age, not execution.
While California taxpayers continue to pay for a death penalty that exists only in name, the cornhusker state has become the latest to recognize that the death penalty serves no useful purpose and is a terrible waste of taxpayer dollars.
Although we expect Nebraska’s governor to veto the bill, the bill passed today with enough votes to override the veto. For our part, we are hopeful that Nebraska will land on the right side of history, despite Governor Ricketts.
We also hope that California’s leaders will finally tackle this monstrous problem and replace the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole.
While Governor Ricketts may be left behind, let’s make sure California isn’t.
Natasha Minsker is the Director of the ACLU of California’s Center for Advocacy and Policy.