There are currently 3,170 people in the United States set to face execution at some point in their life, barring an early death or a good lawyer. Despite doling out 880 death sentences between 1977 and 2010, California has only executed 13 prisoners, and should Prop. 34 pass this November, it will never reach 14. Such terrible inefficiency is the fault of our lengthy appeals process, which can take decades to complete. That being said, simply shortening the appeals process seems like the obvious solution. However, wrongful conviction is rife in the US criminal justice system.
Since 1973, 140 people have been exonerated from their death row sentences, and since the use of DNA evidence became popular in 1989, over 2,000 prisoners have been set free. We have a clear problem with wrongful conviction, and shortening the appeals process would only throw gas on the fire. There have already been eight individuals in the US found innocent after being executed; a number that will only grow each year the death penalty remains in place.
The execution of innocents is an obvious human rights violation, but the psychological torment caused by imminent death that lasts for decades often goes unmentioned, despite European courts considering this situation inhumane since the ‘80s. In fact, the UN has even placed a trade embargo on lethal injection drugs being shipped to the United States. But who cares if a bunch of murderers feel a little anxious? Even if you don’t consider psychological torment of this sort to be cruel and unusual, at least when discussing serial rapists, the fact that so many innocent people are subjected to these traumas is a serious problem.
Ending all wrongful convictions is an unrealistic goal; you can’t cut the appeals process short because it will result in an increase of wrongful executions, and sitting on death row for long periods of time is borderline torture. But let’s step away from legal logistics and focus on California’s biggest problem: money. Common sense dictates that executing prisoners is cheaper than feeding, housing and clothing them for the rest of their lives.
However, due to the amount of time these prisoners spend on death row, as well as its exhausting appeals process, the death penalty is actually costing California tax payers $130 million per year more than if all death row inmates were serving life without parole. Although $130 million doesn’t even tickle our $617 billion debt, it still counts as savings and defeats any notion that California’s death row is monetarily beneficial.
But what about justice? We’re talking about righting horrible wrongs committed by terrible people. How does a life of three hots and a cot repay brutal murder?
But there is no feasible way to carry out death sentences without occasionally killing innocent people, or at the very least, torturing them psychologically. Also, if justice is what you’re after, our capital punishment system isn’t where you’re going to find it, as we have only executed 1.5 percent of those we have sentenced. Therefore, the only practical choice is to vote yes on Prop. 34 and stop wasting the time, money and lives of fellow Californians.
Jake Weber is a third-year literary journalism and philosophy double major. He can be reached at email@example.com.