California Still the Highest Spender on the Death Penalty; New Mexico Abolishes
Other States Reconsider Budget Implication of Death Sentences
SAN FRANCISCO — New Mexico will become the 15th state in the U.S. to replace the death penalty with the effective alternative of permanent imprisonment. While states across the country reconsider the death penalty in light of its high costs and failure to provide any benefit, California continues to spend even more money on the most dysfunctional death penalty in the country. New Mexico is the first western state to end its death penalty, with Montana and Colorado also reviewing their death penalty systems. Kansas has also introduced legislation to end death sentences.
Following Gov. Richardson’s announcement, the ACLU of Northern CA (ACLU-NC) released a new report revealing that California continues to spend more money on the death penalty, even while fewer counties actually send anyone to death row. Only five counties—Alameda, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino—sentenced more than one person to death in 2008, setting themselves apart as the five most active death penalty counties in the state.
“Gov. Schwarzenegger should follow Gov. Richardson’s lead. Ending the death penalty in California would free up more than $125 million for other public safety needs, including helping victims and solving more murders,” said Natasha Minsker, Death Penalty Policy Director for ACLU-NC. “With teachers receiving layoff notices, and police and prosecutors forced to cut staff, California cannot afford to continue with business as usual when it comes to the death penalty.”
In March 2008 the ACLU of Northern California produced the first comprehensive analysis of the costs of the death penalty in California. The Hidden Death Tax revealed that the state pays $90,000 more per year per inmate to house people on death row than it would pay if all those individuals were condemned to permanent imprisonment instead. When the costs of mandatory appeals are included, the per-prisoner price rises to $175,000 more each year.
In one year since that report was released, the population of California’s death row has grown by 11, to a total of 680 people, adding almost $1 million to the annual cost of housing people on death row. Death row housing costs alone now total $61.2 million more each year than the cost of housing in the general prison population. Once the mandatory appeals begin in these cases, the added cost to the state will be almost $2 million each year, on top of the $57 million we already pay each year for court, prosecution, and defense costs in death penalty cases. The recently approved state budget also continues to include $136 million in funds to begin construction of a new death row facility, a project that will cost more than $400 million to complete.
Data from death sentencing in 2008 also reveals that fewer California counties are sentencing more people to execution, creating huge burdens for the entire state to bear.
Last year, the ACLU-NC analyzed county-by-county trends in death sentencing in California. Death by Geography revealed that a small minority of counties actively pursue death sentences; in fact, only 10 counties accounted for nearly 83% of death sentences from 2000 to 2007. Figures updated to include 2008 demonstrate that even fewer counties continue to send more people to California’s death row.
“It’s shocking that states as diverse as New Mexico, Montana and Kansas re-evaluate the costs and benefits of the death penalty, California continues to waste money,” said Delane Sims, Death Penalty Outreach Coordinator for the ACLU-NC. “As someone who lost loved ones to murder, I can tell you that there are more important uses for that money.”
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