Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Bay Area's Death Belt

The ACLU of Northern California has published an impressive new report showing California leading the country in the use of death sentences in 2009, leaving once blood thirsty states like Texas and Florida far behind. Driving California's rush in the opposite direction from the rest of the country is a death belt in Southern California that includes Los Angeles, Riverside and Orange Counties that accounted for more than 80 percent of all California death sentences last year. The website also includes a nifty interactive map that allows you to examine each county in the state for how much money has been spent pursuing the death penalty since 2000, how many people have been sentenced to death since 2000, and how many people on death row total come from the county.

When you work your way around the Bay Area, it turns out that only two counties in the five county area have spent in $1 on seeking the death penalty. In my home county of Alameda, the District Attorney has spent more than 16 million dollars to send 15 people to death row since 2000. In next door Contra Costa county, the District Attorney has spent 12 million to send 11 people to death row. Keep in mind, that in California, a death sentence means mostly that you are very likely to never be released from prison and to die there (the fate of most death row occupants who have died over the last 35 years). But that is basically the same fate that awaits those sentenced to life in prison without parole under the state's capital sentencing alternative (and indeed for far too many of the 1st and 2nd degree murderers who the law assumes to be paroled but are not). In San Francisco, San Mateo, Marin, and Santa Clara counties, DAs have chosen spend 0 dollars to send 0 people to death row during the same time period. It makes you wonder why these local East Bay leaders seem so out of touch with local priorities and values (may be we need to let them know we are here and know who they are on the ballot this November).

To me, at least in these years of dire need and fiscal crisis, this kind of squandering of public resources when those same funds could go to so many other public safety agencies with the ability to stop future murders including police, probation, community mental health treatment, among others, is outrageous (whatever you think about the abstract moral validity of the death penalty).

For those of you in the East Bay who are interested in this topic, there will be a forum on California's death penalty and what it means for us at the local level, Congregation Beth El, 1301 Oxford St in Berkeley, from 7 to 9 pm. Come hear, Stefanie Faucher, Associate Director, Death Penalty Focus; Natasha Minsker, Death Penalty Policy Director, ACLU of Northern California; Judy Kerr, sister of murder victim Robert Kerr; Darryl Stallworth, former Alameda County prosecutor with a discussion to follow.

Email me for more information, jonathansimo@gmail.com


Wes said...

How does the cost for capital punishment compare to the cost of life in prison, keeping in mind the different lengths of time care is provided.

For example, if it costs X amount of money to house a prisoner for a year, then doesn't it make financial sense to spend 2X seeking the death penalty and shave off (by killing) 10 years of captivity?

BTW I've been a steady reader of your blog for several months now and it's always informative and interesting.

Unknown said...

What about the crime that was committed by the person who got the death penalty? Are criminals committing for heinous crimes that are deserving of the death penalty?

Once they criminal receives the death penalty, there should be a 90 period of which an appeal will be done. If the conviction is not overturned, then the criminal should be immediately executed. This would save a lot of money of housing the criminal for the rest of his life.

Guardian said...

Those people sentenced to death are only the worst of the worst criminals. I guess the comparison I'd like to see would be: What is the cost to house a prisoner for life behind bars.

The only way to solve crime and the cost of crime is through education, awareness and culture change.

Guardian Self Defense