As the Nov. 8 election nears, Californians are presented with 17 propositions, one of which is a matter of life or death.
Voters will be given the opportunity to repeal the death penalty under Proposition 62, which will establish life in prison without the possibility of parole as the most severe punishment.
With the prison and justice system in a defective state, it is best for the citizens of California to vote “yes” on Proposition 62 and finally end the inhumane practice of the death penalty.
Supporting the proposition does not condone the violence of the most heinous crimes, but shows recognition to the fact that our current system is flawed and is in desperate need of reform.
California has 756 inmates on death row, 33 percent who are white, 24 percent who are Latino, 36 percent who are black and 6 percent who are of other races, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. The population of California, according to a July 2015 report by the United States Census Bureau is estimated at 39,144,818 people with whites at 38 percent, Latinos at 39 percent and blacks at seven percent of the population. The statistics highlight the disproportionate rate at which blacks are sentenced with the death penalty compared to their white and Latino counterparts, who are a higher percentage of the population within California.
This is not to assume that blacks are committing more violent crimes than other ethnic groups, but to reveal the fact that capital punishment has been rooted in racial bias. History can attest to the United States’ negative portrayal of blacks and false notions that they are dangerous and violent. These depictions as well as policies such as the three strikes law, minimum sentencing, and the war on drugs have attributed to rapid expansion of prisons and harsher punishments sentenced to people of color.
A 2005 study issued in the Santa Clara Review by Glenn Pierce, of the College of Criminal Justice at Northeastern University, and Michael Radelet, a professor of sociology at the University of Colorado, revealed “the probability of a death sentence for those who kill non-Hispanic whites is 3.09 times higher than those suspected of killing non-Hispanic African Americans and 4.33 times higher than those suspected of killing Hispanics.”
From police brutality to the hateful rhetoric of the 2016 Republican Presidential nominee, Donald Trump, and his supporters, it is clear that racial tensions remain high. It is ignorant to believe that racial discrimination in the form of capital punishment, including the death penalty, are a remnant of the past.
The reinstatement of the death penalty in California began with legislation in 1977, followed by the passing of Proposition 7 by voters, which reinstated the practice, in 1978. From then to now, 13 people have been executed in California.
In the study “Executing the Will of the Voters?: A Roadmap to mend or End the California Legislature’s Multi-Billion-Dollar Death Penalty Debacle,” U.S. Circuit Judge Arthur L. Alarcon and Loyola Law professor Paula M. Mitchell, “revealed that $4 billion of state and federal taxpayer money has been expended administering the death penalty in California since 1978, with a cost in 2009 of approximately $184 million above what taxpayers would have spent without the death penalty.”
Other findings in the study reflect the financial burden that is placed on the state for upholding the death penalty. This is shown in the prosecution costs, the time allotted for jury selection, attorney fees, and heightened security practices authorized for death row inmates.
The study suggests that abolishing the death penalty and establishing life without parole, for current death row inmates and future criminals, will “save taxpayers billions of dollars and eliminate the risks of wrongful executions entirely.” An estimated $1.7 million is expected to be saved per year with an estimated $5 billion saved in the following 20 years after the capital punishment has ended.
Those who oppose Proposition 62 could argue that Proposition 66, another initiative up for the November ballot, could alleviate these issues and be a fix to the broken system.
Proposition 66 would keep the death penalty but change the procedures in order to have a quicker appeals process. According to the official voter guide of the state of California, the initiative also “designates superior court for initial petitions and limits successive petitions. Requires appointed attorneys who take noncapital appeals to accept death penalty appeals. Exempts prison officials from existing regulation process for developing execution methods.”
Though the initiative seems plausible to some, Prop 66 is the wrong choice. The initiative is not guaranteed to reduce the amount of money spent to maintain the practice and there is questionable doubt that the process will speed up cases.
The essential reason Californians should abolish the death penalty is because it is unjust
Sentencing of the death penalty is based on a multitude of factors such as the state and county that the crime has taken place or biases within the judge or jury members rather than the crime itself. In addition to people of color, people in poverty are not able to afford a skilled attorney, leading them to take plea deals and resulting in higher rates of prosecution, regardless if they have committed the crime or not.
The percentage of people wrongly accused of a crime further exposes the fact that our criminal justice system is dysfunctional.
A study published in a 2014 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, estimates that around four percent of death row inmates convicted from 1973 to 2004 are falsely accused and innocent. Three have been exonerated in California according to the Death Penalty Information Center. The percentage, no matter how small, is too great of a number to justify the continued use of capital punishment.
Politicians who support the death penalty are more concerned about being viewed as tough on crime rather than finding tangible solutions to prevent crime from happening in the first place. In addition, it is not an effective deterrent of murder or any other offense against the law, if it was then we would not have an increasing rate of death row inmates.
Furthermore, Californians should abolish the death penalty to uphold the ideology that death, no matter the circumstances, is wrong and a violation of human rights. We as a nation should hold ourselves to a higher standard than those who have committed unforgivable crimes.
The United States’ history of violence has instilled the belief that we, as a society, should seek retribution for those who have hurt or wronged us. This sense of retribution can manifest into violent yearnings that call for harsher, severe punishments such as death.
Instead we should focus on moral and humane approaches to justice that establish standards that will help progress our society further. That is not to say that the feelings of the victim and those affected are not valued, but rather that emotions have no place in decisions of justice. Death does not quench the pain, anger or sorrow felt, but is simply a means to an end. Who are we as a society to decide who gets to live or die?
For those that believe that justice and vengeance are not mutually exclusive, consider the thought that death is not the best form of punishment. A prisoner sentenced to life without parole continues to live knowing that they will rot in a jail cell for the crimes they have committed. This punishment provides the opportunity for inmates to reflect on their wrongs and on the pain they have inflicted. Death leaves no room for remorse or responsibility for one’s actions.
For those eligible to vote, I urge you to research into the death penalty and our prison system. In that research I hope you find that voting “yes” on proposition 62 is the best decision.
Abolishing the death penalty is a step towards a moral high ground, a step towards prison reform and a step towards stopping the never-ending cycle of violence.