California Looks to End Death Penalty
In California last week, a ballot measure to end the death penalty qualified for the November elections. If passed into law, life imprisonment without possibility of parole would replace the death penalty as the sternest penalty in the state’s criminal code. Additionally, more than 700 current death row inmates would see their sentences commuted to life imprisonment without possibility of parole. The measure, if passed, would make California the 18th state without the death penalty (Connecticut is one signature away from becoming the 17th state).
As Franklin Zimring, a professor at the UC Berkeley School of Law, noted in a San Francisco Chronicle op-ed, the death penalty in California, has been “a dismal failure: expensive, slow, arbitrary, complicated, and inconclusive.” Zimring continued:
After 34 years, California now has - by far - the largest Death Row of any state in American history and the most expensive death penalty litigation process in world history. With more than 720 condemned prisoners on Death Row, the state has executed only 13 since 1978, when Proposition 7 reinstated the death penalty.
So far, the emphasis in the campaign to end the death penalty has been on the fiscal savings that would be achieved. In fact, the first word in the ballot measure’s full name—the Savings, Accountability, and Full Enforcement for California Act (or SAFE California Act)—focuses on exactly that. As Zimring noted: “If the public cost of the system were calculated by dividing the total additional spending on the process by the 13 men put to death, the expense for each execution would build one public hospital or two community colleges.”
But as Reform Jews, we know that there is much more than fiscal savings at stake in this proposal. The Reform Movement has long believed that there is no crime for which the taking of human life by society is justified. Consequently, and in keeping with our Jewish tradition, we believe that it is the obligation of society to evolve other methods to deal with crime. As a Movement, we have consistently spoken out for a criminal justice system that ensures fair application of the law. It is clear that the application of the death penalty has, for far too long, been unfair; the racial and class disparities among those sentenced to death as compared to those who receive life imprisonment are stark. Capital punishment violates both the Constitutional prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment and the moral ideals of our religious tradition.
Keep checking RACblog for updates on this issue, and visit the Religious Action Center’s death penalty resource page to learn more.
Image courtesy of deathpenalty.org