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Day of Action to End the Death Penalty

Today, for the first time ever, Californians will have the chance to weigh in on the state’s broken death penalty system. Victims, clergy, legal experts, wrongfully convicted individuals and concerned taxpayers from around the state will converge on Sacramento for a public hearing of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, to give their comments on new regulations for lethal injections.

The hearing comes after three years of legal challenges and three years without executions in California. If the rules are adopted and more pending legal challenges are resolved quickly, executions could resume as soon as 2010. But only four people have exhausted all of their appeals and would even be eligible for execution. Meanwhile in the last three years, 16 people on death row have died of natural causes or suicide. California has only managed to carry out 13 executions since the death penalty was reinstated in 1977.

Yet despite having no official method of execution for the last three years, California has wasted hundreds of millions of dollars on the death penalty system, and stands poised to waste another $1 billion over the next five years. So after voicing their opinion on executions today, concerned taxpayers will also have their chance to voice their opinion on wasteful spending, calling on the Governor to end the death penalty altogether and save the state millions.

Coincidentally, it was exactly one year ago that Californians got the first comprehensive report on exactly how dysfunctional and expensive the death penalty system already is. On June 30, 2008 the bi-partisan California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice released their report on the death penalty, finding that it costs taxpayers $137 million each year, yet remains riddled with serious flaws, including a real risk of wrongful execution and an appeals process that causes suffering to murder victim survivors. On the other hand, the Commission found that the alternative of permanent imprisonment for all those currently on death row would save $125 million each year, while still protecting the public. Now, one year later, the system is just as dysfunctional and even more expensive.

Rather than continuing the status quo, the Governor could suspend the death penalty and save the state $1 billion in five years. The potential savings break down as:

$125 million per year in the extra expenses of the death penalty. By converting all death sentences to permanent imprisonment, Gov. Schwarzenegger would save the state over $600 million in five years.

$400 million for the construction of a new death row. The State Auditor estimates building a new death row facility at San Quentin will cost at least $400 million. Building anywhere else will be even more expensive. If all death sentences were converted and any new death sentences suspended for five years, we would avoid this cost.

 Some hear these figures and think the best solution would be to “speed up” the death penalty appeals process. But the Commission tried to find ways to do that, and discovered they would cost even more money—nearly $100 million more.

Today, hundreds of diverse California residents will seize their first opportunity to speak out publicly against the death penalty and will say loud and clear to the Governor and the Legislature stop wasting our money on this failed system.

 The ACLU of Northern California will be in Sacrament for the Day of Action. Follow @ACLU_NorCal for regular updates throughout the day, and visit for more information.


 At yesterday’s Day of Action to End the Death Penalty, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation heard from over 100 anti-death penalty activists as they gave moving and impassioned testimony against proposed regulations to resume executions in California. The hearing was originally scheduled to last only until 3 pm, but CDCR had to extend the hearing time to allow everyone a chance to make their voices heard.

Among those testifying were:

Judy Kerr, spokesperson for California Crime Victims for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, and many other murder victim survivors who oppose executions in their name;

Gloria Killian, Tom Goldstein and Greg Wilhoit, all wrongfully convicted and only released after spending years behind bars;

Barbara Becnel, who witnessed the botched execution of Stanley “Tookie” Williams by lethal injection;

Bill Babbitt, who saw his brother Manny Babbitt executed even though Manny was a Vietnam Veteran who suffered from severe mental illness;

Fr. George Horan on behalf of the California Catholic Conference, along with religious leaders from many other faiths;

and dozens more California residents, teachers, and health care workers concerned about the high cost of the entire death penalty system at a time of fiscal disaster.

By the end of the day – the deadline for submitting written comments on the regulations – more than 7,000 comments have been submitted to CDCR, to which they must now respond. Nearly all object to implementing the regulations as currently written.

At 3 pm, nearly 200 activists filed out of the hearing room and marched to the Capitol to deliver their message to the Governor. Carrying signs calling for “Money for Education, Not Executions,” the group congregated on the North Steps of the Capitol and listened as Mike Farrell, President of Death Penalty Focus, called on the Governor to convert all death sentences immediately to save the state $1 billion over the next five years.

As more anti-death penalty leaders spoke, a small contingent of activists went in to the Capitol building, to deliver to the Governor a symbolic check for $1 billion and a petition with 5,000 signatures calling on the Governor to immediately convert all death sentences to permanent imprisonment to save the state money.  Dozens of activists then filed through the capitol building, handing packets of information to every single legislator on the costs and flaws in California’s death penalty.

All around Sacramento yesterday the message was heard: California cannot afford our deeply flawed death penalty system; it is time for a change.

Save $1 Billion 5 Years — End the Death Penalty

In the market for a prime piece of real estate? Governor Schwarzenegger has the deal for you! Facing a $21.3 Billion budget deficit in California, Schwarzenegger has offered to sell state-owned property to make up the difference. The crown jewel of the proposed fire sale is San Quentin State Prison, home to California’s death row and beautifully situated in the San Francisco Bay.

But before he can flip San Quentin for a profit, Gov. Schwarzenegger will have to figure out what to do with the 680 condemned inmates who currently call it home. Fortunately, there is a solution.  The best way to solve California’s budget woes would be to do away with the death penalty all together.  By eliminating the death penalty, the state will save $1 billion in five years. And that’s not even counting the profit from selling San Quentin.

California currently has the largest death row in the country and spends more than any other state on the death penalty. In the next five years, California can save $1 billion by getting rid of the death penalty. Here’s how:

  • Save $125 million per year by cutting extra costs of the death penalty—costs not incurred through permanent imprisonment. According to the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, the annual cost of California’s death penalty to the state is $137 million. If the worst offenders were condemned to permanent imprisonment instead, the cost would be only $11 million and California would not be any less safe.
  • Save $400 million in construction of a new housing facility for death row inmates. According to the State Auditor, this is how much it will cost to build a new facility at San Quentin, needed because the current facility is filled past capacity. And this is the state’s cost saving measure; building at any other site will be even more expensive.

Keep in mind that any attempt to “speed up” the death penalty will cost even more. The California Commission concluded that in order to reduce the time needed to review death penalty cases, the state would need to spend an additional $100 million each year.

These figures don’t even take into consideration the windfall profits from selling off San Quentin, if anyone even wants it. But before death row can go on the market, Gov. Schwarzenegger will have to come up with an effective alternative for the inmates already living there. Luckily, California has such an alternative already in place—permanent imprisonment—which is just as safe as and so much less expensive than capital punishment.   The money saved can be used to provide victims’ services or other crime prevention measures.  And there would still be money left to help dig California out of this economic hole.

Right now, Gov. Schwarzenegger can convert all of the current death sentences to sentences of permanent imprisonment, ensuring these inmates are kept off the streets forever and die in prison. Every guilty person sentenced to permanent imprisonment in California stays in prison until he or she dies, and it costs $175,000 less per inmate per year than a sentence of death by execution.

Before selling San Quentin, the Legislature will also need to temporarily suspend any new death sentences until the state recovers from the current fiscal crisis so we don’t recreate the current problem. As an added bonus, suspending new death penalty trials would also save county budgets, which are in no better condition than the state budget. Each death penalty trial costs the local counties at least $1.1 million more than a trial where the district attorney seeks a sentence of permanent imprisonment. California currently averages about 20 new death sentences a year, so stopping death penalty trials could save counties an additional $100 million in five years.

Of the many proposals Gov. Schwarzenegger has put before the voters and the legislature to rescue the state from financial meltdown—all of which have failed—none are quite as simple or reasonable as suspending the death penalty and saving $1 billion in five years. Since the Governor is now into real estate, he should know a “money pit” when he sees it. The longer he waits, the more money he wastes.

To learn more visit

Natasha Minsker is the Death Penalty Policy Director for the ACLU of Northern California.

The Causes of Wrongful Conviction

When the innocent go to prison, the guilty go free.

Tuesday night, Stephen Colbert interviewed the 200th DNA exoneree, Jerry Miller, 

Herman Atkins spent 12 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit–watch his story,

Three bills in the California Legislature would help prevent the most common causes of wrongful conviction:

Senate Bill 511 (Alquist) will require the electronic recording of police interrogation in cases involving homicides and other violent felonies. 

Senate Bill 756 (Ridley-Thomas) will require the appointment of a task force to draft guidelines for the conduct of police line-ups and photo arrays to increase the accuracy of eyewitness identifications. 

Senate Bill 609 (Romero) will require the corroboration of testimony by jailhouse informants. 

The California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice—a group of law enforcement officers, prosecutors and defense attorneys—has recommended all three reforms,

These reforms will help protect the innocent and make sure the guilty are convicted. 

TAKE ACTION: Urge your State Assembly Member to support these bills at