By Michele Hanisee
California houses a quarter of the nation’s death row inmates, but we last executed a brutal criminal more than a decade ago. Since then, we have sentenced at least 167 people to death. Incredibly, that’s more people than are on death rows in all but four states, according to a recent Washington Post article.
These delays in justice are caused by a system that is flawed, but those flaws would be corrected by a ballot initiative that would enact desperately needed reforms. It’s critical that this initiative passes in November. Failure will mean the end of California’s death penalty; opponents are supporting a competing initiative to eliminate this form of justice for the state’s most notorious murderers.
The problems with California’s death penalty are by no means new, and they have literally transformed a death sentence into life without parole.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, the state has executed only 13 inmates. A quarter of the 700-plus inmates on California’s death row have been there for more than 25 years. The average death-row inmate has spent 16 years with a death sentence.
One of the primary problems is the endless inmate appeal process of their death sentences. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer in an opinion last year remarked that the “unconscionably long delays … undermine the death penalty’s penological purpose.”
The reform initiative would solve this problem, and many more. Among other things, it would require that a defendant who is sentenced to death be appointed a lawyer at the time of sentence, meaning the defendant’s appeal will be heard sooner. It would also allow the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to reduce the cost of housing death-row inmates, and make it easier for the department to enact an execution protocol.
As we said in an earlier post, failure to pass this initiative is not an option. A donation of $25, $50 or $100 will go a long way to help qualify this crucial reform measure for the November ballot. You can donate here.