No Exceptions, No Excuses
Posted by Yoko on October 22nd, 2008
"Look at you! You are just like us!" was one of the many cogent quotes from the movie "Death Sentence" that I recently watched on television.
The film depicted the tragic murder of a young man from a wealthy, happy family who was killed at gunpoint by a gang member right front of his father. It was a gang initiation killing. The boy was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
This boy's father was informed by a lawyer before the preliminary hearing that the perpetrator would probably be sentenced to about 3 years or so regardless of this brutal slaying (which would rarely, if ever, happen in real life). The character is shocked and decides to kill his son's murderer himself. He testifies in court that he was unable to clearly see the suspect's face so that the case will be dismissed and perpetrator will be freed.
He executes his son's murderer but in return the perpetrator's brother who is also a gang member tries to exact revenge upon him. In the end, after a bloody battle between these two men, the gang member, left to die in a pool of blood, says "Look at you! You are just like us!"
After watching this film, I couldn't help but notice the similarities between this type of vigilante revenge killing and state sanctioned killing, both of which are done in the name of justice. However, justice should not be mistaken for revenge. Revenge killing will never be a solution. State sanctioned killing lowers us to the level of the condemned prisoner, despite the fact that it is done legally. This type of killing will never bring peace of mind to anyone. I believe this kind of barbarism should not be allowed.
The naked simple fact...
Posted by Lance Lindsey on October 17th, 2008
It is useful to remind ourselves, as well as those who believe that killing prisoners represents a legitimate form of justice, that in fact the death penalty is a very rare and marginal criminal justice practice not only in the US but also globally. 90% of all executions in America take place in only handful of Southern states and, according to Amnesty International, nearly 90% of known executions throughout the world are carried out in just five countries (China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the USA).
The vast majority of US states and nations do not execute their prisoners. All Western democracies, except the US, have abolished the death penalty a long time ago.
Our opponents often like to paint the abolitionist community as marginal and out of touch with the mainstream. In fact, support for the death penalty both here and abroad is dramatically diminishing, and advocacy for alternatives like permanent imprisonment is becoming the preferred sentence over death, according to a recent poll in California, and thus the genuinely mainstream position.
As former California Governor Pat Brown expressed it: "The naked simple fact is that the death penalty has been a gross failure. Beyond its horror and incivility, it has neither protected the innocent nor deterred the wicked."
Families of Murder Victims Call for End of Death Penalty
Posted by Stefanie on October 10th, 2008
To mark World Day Against the Death Penalty (October 10th) and Mental Illness Awareness Week, I would like to share a short video featuring Nick and Amanda Wilcox, Kim Crespi, and Bill Babbitt. They were filmed at last weeks launch of a joint project between Murder Victims' Families for Human Rights
(MVFHR) and National Alliance on Mental Illness
to end the execution of prisoners with a mental illness. The launch of the project took place in San Antonio, Texas and brought together families of murder victims with families of mentally ill individuals who have been executed for violent crimes. Together, they offered their testimonies and launched a new initiative calling for a ban on the death penalty for people with mental illnesses.
To get involvedcontact MVFHR, and join the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty.
Rev. Carroll Pickett: The evolution of a death penalty opponent
Posted by Stefanie on October 1st, 2008
An interesting interview from the Dallas Morning News:
For 15 years, the Rev. Carroll Pickett was a witness to state-sanctioned
death. As a prison chaplain in Hunstville, he presided over 95 executions. After
each one, Mr. Pickett recorded his thoughts on tape. The documentary At the
Death House Door chronicles his anguish as he eventually concludes that some
of the men he led to death were innocent.
Dallas Morning News editorial writer Colleen McCain Nelson interviewed
Mr. Pickett via e-mail this week. Read the interview.
Troy Davis execution is stayed until Monday, September 29th
Posted by Stefanie on September 23rd, 2008
Less than 2 hours before his scheduled execution, death row prisoner Troy Davis received word today that the U.S. Supreme Court had stayed his execution until Monday, September 29th.
Davis, who is on death row in Georgia, has always maintained his innocence. 7 of the 9 witnesses who testified against him at his trial have recanted their testimony.
Critical Decision in Citizens’ Hands in Japan
Posted by Yoko on September 16th, 2008
I’d like to talk about the Japanese judicial system again.
In Japan, all the criminal and civil cases are tried only by lawyers and judges. Even though the public can witness the trials, a jury system made up of members of the public has never been used.
However, a new citizen judge system will start next year. This means, unlike the U.S jury system, six citizens who are randomly elected, will share their opinions and decisions with three judges, not only in the verdict phase, but also the sentencing phase. More importantly, this system applies to ONLY SERIOUS CRIMINAL CASES that are mainly comprised of murder (including death penalty cases), manslaughter, arson, kidnapping and child negligence cases.
The theory behind this citizen judge system is that public opinions should be heard and reflected in court decisions so that trials will (ideally) be even more just and fair. As I mentioned before, however, over 90 % of Japanese people support the death penalty. This new public interaction with the legal system may provide Japanese people with a unique opportunity to become aware of the serious issues surrounding the death penalty. On the other hand, this new system will allow the public to decide who should live or die, and could prove to be an outlet for the public’s outrage towards the perpetrators of heinous crimes. I don't know which direction this process will take whether it will make the system more fair or less. Even though it’s very controversial, I hope this new legal process will at least stimulate more lively and informed discussions in the future.
Unfortunately, since my last blog entry, another 3 death row inmates were executed in Japan last week. Lately, executions have been occurring about every two months. Compared with the last 10 years, the number of the death verdicts handed down has been rapidly increasing, as is the pace of the executions. These new developments, sadly, go against the worldwide trend to reduce and eliminate the use of the death penalty.
A previous Japanese minister of justice said, “Once a death sentence is finalized, execution should be carried out promptly.” This really horrified me.
Fact: 35 executions last 10 years (9 executions were carried out in 2007)
13 executions in 2008 only
"Justice was served...."
Posted by Lance Lindsey on September 10th, 2008
It is often assumed by some that the only response by murder victims' family members is to demand the death penalty for the perpetrator. However, increasingly the alternative sentence of life without parole is being sought by prosecutors and families who have lost loved ones to murder because it provides a less prolonged, traumatizing legal process in reaching finality and justice. In fact, in a recent poll, the majority of Californians prefer the much less costly sentence of life without parole over death as the ultimate sanction. And of course throughout the world, the majority of nations have long ago stopped executing their prisoners in favor of alternative punishments that are not only more humane, but also more fair and just.
To learn more about this growing move away from demands for the death penalty by district attorneys and the victim rights community, I encourage our readers to check out California Crime Victims for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, or Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation, which are advocacy organizations made up solely of individuals who have lost loved ones to murder and who advocate for alternatives to the death penalty.
Here is an excerpt from a recent SF Chronicle article about one of several cases in the Bay Area that illustrates alternative responses by murder victims' family members and the trend away from the use of judicial homicide as part of the state's pursuit of justice:
Life sentence in Oakland slaying of professor
Henry K. Lee, SF Chronicle, September 6, 2008
Troy Tyrone Thomas III was convicted in July of murdering John Alfred Dennis Jr., 59, a teacher at St. Mary's College in Moraga and City College of San Francisco. Prosecutors say Thomas killed Dennis with the intention of assuming his identity.
Thomas entered guilty pleas to all the charges against him, including murder with the special circumstances of burglary and financial gain, said Deputy District Attorney Mark Jackson. Prosecutors opted not to seek the death penalty…..
The sentencing came after the victim's nephew, Josh Dennis, began weeping while addressing the court.
"In some weird, twisted way," Dennis said, pausing to control his emotion, "in some way I forgive you for what you've done." He said that's what his uncle would have wanted.
"I'm not God, because what he can do is forgive and forget," Dennis said. "I can't forget."
The Rev. Jay Matthews of St. Benedict's Catholic Church in Oakland told the judge, "John was a wonderful, bright light and a wonderful mentor to so many people in this community. John's demise will leave a great void in our community."
Matthews told Thomas, "We forgive you as well."
In an interview, Jackson said, "Justice was served, and Mr. Thomas will spend the rest of his life in prison, where he cannot harm anyone else."
Thomas' attorney, Assistant Public Defender Richard Foxall, said the guilty plea and sentence was "the right resolution."
For the complete story click HERE.
Please take a moment to read this!
Posted by Rebecca Rose McLaughlin on September 2nd, 2008
I wanted to make sure all of our supporters, and especially our potential supporters, had a chance to read this stirring op-ed written by Ronald Carlson.
(I would have posted just the link to this article, but it looks like his op-ed is no longer available online at http://www.star-telegram.com)From the Star-Telegram, Sunday, August 3, 2008
Time to end the death penalty's cycle of violence by Ronald Carlson
June 13, 1983, and Feb. 3, 1998, are two days that will forever be etched in my memory.
On that fateful day in June, I lost my dear sister, Deborah Thornton, senselessly murdered along with her friend Jerry Lynn Dean.
Fifteen years later, I witnessed another senseless act of violence: the execution of Karla Faye Tucker, the woman condemned for the crime.
Before I lost my sister, I had no opinion on the death penalty. But Deborah's tragic death made the question of capital punishment a painfully personal one. When I learned of the murder of my only sibling, who had helped raise me after our mother died, I was filled with hatred. I would have killed those responsible with my own hands if given the opportunity.
But when I learned that those responsible - Karla Faye and her friend Daniel Garrett - were in fact facing death sentences, I was uncertain that justice was being served.
I've since had 25 years - almost half my life - to examine the subject, and the conclusion I've come to is a clear one: We as a society should not be involved in the practice of killing people.
Wanting to see those who killed your loved ones suffer the same fate is understandable - no one can sit in judgment of those who have faced such loss - but our justice system should not be dictated by vengeance. As a society, shouldn't we be more civilized than the murderers we condemn?
Finding faith is what led me to this conviction and helped me confront my pain and anger.
Turning to God enabled me to realize that, while lashing out might satisfy our instinctual desire for revenge, we as a society must strive not to indulge those desires. Jesus preached the need to love one another and the sanctity of life - all life, no exceptions, no asterisks to the rule.
What could be a more egregious violation of his teachings than the state executing its own citizens in retribution?
The death penalty does nothing more than continue the cycle of violence that is corroding our society.
I have stood more than one time with Death Row families as they prepared to watch their loved ones head to the execution chamber. The pain that they feel is no different from the pain that I felt for my sister. When we engage in the practice of capital punishment, we force more people to suffer through the tragic loss I had to endure. We simply create more victims - victims of the very criminal justice system meant to protect us.
The broken nature of this system makes the practice of capital punishment all the more unconscionable. From inadequate counsel to the staggering number of wrongful convictions, it is morally deplorable to continue with the death penalty while these problems persist. Daniel died in prison before his execution could be carried out, but I was present at the execution of Karla Faye as a witness on her behalf. It was one of the most highly publicized executions in Texas history.
Karla Faye's religious conversion while on Death Row had led many, including Pope John Paul II, to express support for clemency, but it was to no avail. Watching the execution left me with horror and emptiness, confirming what I had already come to realize: Capital punishment only continues the violence that has a powerful, corrosive effect on society.
While many advocated sparing Karla Faye's life because of her redemption story, I consider myself an advocate for all life - and an opponent of all killing, whether it be the murder of innocent victims or the execution of the condemned.
As I watched Karla Faye die, all I could think was this: I can't see Jesus pulling the switch.
Ronald Carlson lives in Houston and is an advocate against the death penalty.
My Mission at DPF
Posted by Yoko on August 20th, 2008
As a Japanese national, I have a unique perspective on the death penalty.
Many people are surprised to learn that Japan, like the United States, has a death penalty. What surprises people most is that Japan still uses hanging as its method of execution and that hangings are carried out in secret. The condemned prisoner, their lawyers, and the family of the condemned do not know when the execution is scheduled to occur. They are usually notified the morning of the execution and this information is made public the following day. (It used to be completely hidden from all parties until the policy was changed in December 2007.) According to the recent public poll, over 90% of Japanese people support the death penalty.
When I lived in Japan, I didn't have an opportunity to discuss the death penalty or even think about it seriously. I simply accepted it as part of life in Japan. In fact, due to my political ignorance at the time, I used to support the death penalty.
But as you may have guessed, I now fall into the ten percent of Japanese people who oppose the death penalty.
Its the perception of many people that the condemned don't have the right to live because they are responsible for the taking the lives of innocent victims. Of course, I now strongly disagree with that thought construct and believe that every human being deserves to live.
Because of my own experience here in the bay area and the knowledge that I've acquired by attending school here, I am now committed to educating my friends regarding the issues surrounding the death penalty. This is one of the main components of my mission at DPF!
Pointless and Needless
Posted by Lance Lindsey on August 12th, 2008
Nat Hentoff's piece, "Sanitizing the Death Penalty," which was originally published on WorldNetDaily a few months ago, is certainly disturbing as he reflects on the US Supreme Court's recent decision in Baze v. Rees. The Court, in their merciless opinion, found that the process by which we methodically, ritualistically poison condemned prisoners to death (lethal injection) is not cruel and unusual punishment even if there is a risk of inflicting significant pain on the prisoner during the process.
However, even with such a heartless conclusion, where at least one standard of decency appears to be devolving instead of evolving, another powerful voice on behalf of civilization over barbarism, moral courage over "moral error," rose above the Scalian smoke and mirrors to speak clearly to what is in fact an intolerable conclusion: "...that the imposition of the death penalty represents the pointless and needless extinction of life with only marginal contributions to any discernible or social public purpose." Justice Stevens can be forgiven his use of the word "marginal" because he now joins other illustrious jurists such as Marshall, Blackmun and Brennan, as well as others on the current court, who have "awakened" to the futility and cruelty of tinkering with the administration of torture and death in our criminal justice system and courageously speak out for abolition of the death penalty.
Mario Cuomo spoke eloquently on behalf of this growing chorus of human rights leaders when he said: "We should refuse to allow this time to be marked forever in the pages of our history as the time that we were driven back to one of the vestiges of our primitive condition, because we were not intelligent enough, because we were not civilized enough, to find a better answer to violence than violence."
We welcome Justice John Paul Stevens to our growing ranks.
Mike Farrell and Don McCartin in the Fresno Bee
Posted by Stefanie on August 6th, 2008
An excellent op-ed by DPF President Mike Farrell and former Judge Don McCartin appeared in the Fresno Bee today.
Don McCartin, was a judge with the Superior Court. He sentenced more men to death than any
other in his jurisdiction. He was known as "the hanging judge of Orange County."
Excerpted from the op-ed:
Don McCartin, having sentenced nine men to death and then watched as the system
examined, re-examined and finally overturned all of his convictions while
executing none of them, now believes the death penalty is a hideously expensive
fraud. It tortures the loved ones of murder victims by dragging them through the
years of complex appeals required by the U.S. Supreme Court in an attempt to
protect the innocent.
McCartin's experience with the death penalty system confirms the findings of the California Commisison on the Fair Administration of Justice which called California's death penalty "dysfunctional" and revealed the excesisves costs associated with this failing system.
"My First Month at Death Penalty Focus"
Posted by Rebecca Rose McLaughlin on August 4th, 2008
For those of you who are frequent visitors to our site, my name and face may be unfamiliar to you.That's because I am a new addition to the Death Penalty Focus team.My name is Rebecca Rose and I am the new Development Director here at DPF. I come to this organization with a deep conviction about this issue and a drive to do everything I can to help end the death penalty.
Even though I've been here only a few short weeks, the staff and Board have made me feel completely welcome, and energized me with their infectious enthusiasm. Their support has made the transition from my job and life in San Diego to San Francisco smoother than I could have imagined.
From the moment I set foot in this office, it has been very clear to me that everyone in this organization is truly passionate about the work they do. I have been so inspired by the programs here at DPF, and there are even bigger things on the horizon.I know that we have a long way to go in this movement, and I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to work alongside such committed activists.
Most importantly, I know that it is our base of supporters that makes us strong. The first thing I realized is how strong our network of support really is, and how much momentum there is in our community to make changes in this system.
I look forward to learning more about this issue, and to getting to know more of our supporters, donors and activists.By working together, we can achieve our goal of replacing the death penalty with life in prison without the possibility of parole!
Great Video of Former Florida State Prison Warden Ron McAndrew
Posted by Stefanie on July 31st, 2008
This is a really compelling video of former warden, Ron McAndrew, talking about the executions he oversaw and the death penalty: http://www.palmbeachpost.com/search/content/local_news/slideshows/deathrow/wardenvideo.html
Great Letter from a DPF Member in San Luis Obispo
Posted by Stefanie on July 22nd, 2008
This is a great letter co-authored by a DPF member in San Luis Obispo, CA.
San Luis Obispo Tribune
July 10, 2008
Viewpoint: Turn to other options for the death penalty
By Susan Pyburn and Howard Gillingham
Coinciding with the release of the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice report on the death penalty was the release of Paul House, cleared on DNA evidence after 22 years on Tennessee's death row.
There was also the release from duty of two Los Angeles police officers because of an investigation into their probable perjurious evidence that, unknown to the officers, was contradicted by a videotape, resulting in a case dismissal.
The state-ordered report underscores what Paul House knows firsthand, as do more than 100 previously freed men and women from this country's death rows. The inescapable conclusion is that every day in courtrooms around the country (or do we think Los Angeles is unique?) men and women are unfairly convicted with testimony that is perjured or given in good faith but mistaken.
While there are many able lawyers, men and women are represented by other lawyers who have been drunk or asleep during the trial and/or are having intimate relationships with witnesses, wives or girlfriends of the accused. Also, deals with witnesses- too often concealed- are made for shorter sentences. Is it any wonder that California - like Illinois and others before it-has now received a report on the status of the death penalty that states the death penalty is in need of costly repair, with no guarantee that it will work were we to put it up on the hoist and do all that is recommended?
Is it not foolhardy, especially in difficult economic times, to spend hundreds of millions of dollars for a system that may not be fixable? Nothing in the report indicates repairs will end perjury, mistaken witnesses, clandestine lawyer-party relationships or other built-in human frailties.
It is not the death penalty law that is broken as much as it is we who are broken. We are broken, as most preachers, priests and nonbelievers would admit, because we are human. And as with most human endeavors, including the ones done with the utmost care, mistakes will be made.
There is a solution to our understandable fury with horrible crimes and those who commit them: life in prison without the possibility ofparole- a sentence less costly than the death penalty; a sentence imposed in less time than the death penalty; a sentence that does not clog our trial and supreme courts; and a sentence that takes the drama and spotlight away from those who are not entitled to a great deal of society's valuable time and resources.
One of the dirty little secrets of the death penalty is that a death row inmate is specially handled and guarded on the row. It is ironic that so much is invested in protecting the safety of death row inmates …when we are planning to kill them.
They, as homicide defendants in general, are some of the best behaved of inmates. Place them in a general prison population, a crowded life with safety always a concern, and they go from semi-celebrity status to just another face in prison blues spending days not huddled with lawyers, psychologists and chaplains but just walking back and forth, "doing time."
Susan Pyburn, a photographer, writer and advocate for the homeless, is the founding member of Death Penalty Focus in San Luis Obispo. Howard Gillingham is a Southern California high school principal and former lawyer and defense expert in death penalty matters.
Out of Commission
Posted by Stephen F. Rohde on July 8th, 2008
|Stephen F. Rohde, DPF Board Member|
At a pivotal moment in the debate over capital punishment, a new report finds that California's death penalty system is "dysfunctional" and "close to collapse."
For decades, opponents of capital punishment have been saying just that: The death penalty doesn't work, it risks executing innocent people, it's riddled with (literally) fatal errors and it costs far more that the alternative of permanent incarceration.
Finally, the independent, nonpartisan California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, following a comprehensive four-year study, agrees.
The 22-member commission was chaired by John K. Van de Kamp, and included prosecutors, public defenders, law enforcement officials, academics and others. It concluded that the "system is plagued with excessive delay in the appointments of counsel for direct appeals and habeas corpus petitions, and a severe backlog in the review of appeals and habeas petitions before the California Supreme Court. Ineffective assistance of counsel and other claims of constitutional violations are succeeding in federal courts at a very high rate."
Those of us who oppose the death penalty have been decrying the extent to which California's system fails to produce reliable results. Now the commission has found that federal courts in 54 habeas corpus challenges to California death penalty judgments granted relief in the form of a new guilt trial or a new penalty hearing in 38 of the cases, or an alarming 70 percent.
Even California's Chief Justice Ronald George told the commission that if nothing is done, the backlogs in post-conviction proceedings will continue to grow "until the system falls of its own weight."
The commission pointed out what abolitionists have been saying for years that the "failures in the administration of California's death penalty law create cynicism and disrespect for the rule of law, increase the duration and costs of confining death row inmates, weaken any possible deterrent benefits of capital punishment, increase the emotional trauma experienced by murder victims' families, and delay the resolution of meritorious capital appeals."
Supporters of capital punishment have dismissed our criticisms as biased, ill-informed and lacking in evidence. But the commission's report is based on three public hearings, in Sacramento, Los Angeles and Santa Clara, where 72 witnesses testified, including judges, prosecutors and defense lawyers actively engaged in the administration and operation of California's death penalty law, as well as academics, victims of crime, concerned citizens and representatives of advocacy organizations. The commission also conducted independent research and received 66 written submissions.
While abolitionists often speak out against the death penalty on deeply moral grounds, we rarely rely on pragmatic reasons. But for the wider community, the astronomical cost of capital punishment may prove to be its undoing. The commission found that "by conservative estimates, well over $100 million" is spent on capital punishment annually. "The strain placed by these cases on our justice system, in terms of the time and attention taken away from other business that the courts must conduct for our citizens, is heavy."
Yet, to reduce the average lapse of time from sentence to execution by half, to the national average of 12 years, the commission estimated that taxpayers would have to spend nearly twice what we are spending now.
Critics of the death penalty have warned for decades that we are sending innocent people to death row. Although the commission stated that it had learned of no credible evidence that the state of California has actually executed an innocent person (and we believe it has), it could not conclude "with confidence that the administration of the death penalty in California eliminates the risk that innocent persons might be convicted and sentenced to death."
While nationally, there were 205 exonerations of defendants convicted of murder from 1989 through 2003 (74 of whom were sentenced to death) 14 of the 205 murder cases took place in California. Since 1979, six defendants sentenced to death in California, whose convictions were reversed and remanded, were subsequently acquitted or had their murder charges dismissed for lack of evidence.
Two of the most dangerous flaws in the criminal justice system are erroneous eye-witness identifications (which the commission found have been identified as a factor nationwide in 80 percent of exonerations), and false confessions (where it is a factor in 15 percent of exonerations). California State Public Defender Michael Hersek reported to the commission that of the 117 death penalty appeals currently pending in his office, 17 featured testimony by in-custody informants, and another six included testimony by informants who were in constructive custody.
Yet over the last two years, when the commission made interim recommendations to reduce the risks of wrongful convictions resulting from erroneous eye-witness identifications, false confessions and testimony by in-custody informants, although bills were passed by the Legislature, they were all vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. If there is not the political will and determination to heed the recommendations of the commission to "fix" the system, doesn't it follow that capital punishment itself should be abolished?
The commission concluded that the "time has come to address death penalty reform in a frank and honest way. To function effectively, the death penalty must be carried out with reasonable dispatch, but at the same time in a manner that assures fairness, accuracy and non-discrimination." Accordingly, first and foremost, the commission unanimously recommended a series of reforms to address ineffective assistance of counsel, which it estimated would cost at least $95 million more per year than is presently including that:
The California Legislature immediately address the unavailability of qualified, competent attorneys to accept appointments to handle direct appeals and habeas corpus proceedings in California death penalty cases by expanding the Office of the State Public Defender to an authorized strength of 78 lawyers, a 33 percent increase in the OSPD budget, to be phased in over a three-year period, by expanding the California Habeas Corpus Resource Center to an authorized strength of 150 lawyers, a 500 percent increase to its current budget, to be phased in over a five-year period; that the staffing of the offices of the attorney general, which handle death penalty appeals and habeas corpus proceedings be increased as needed; and that funds be made available to the California Supreme Court to ensure that all appointments of private counsel to represent death row inmates on direct appeals and habeas corpus proceedings comply with ABA Guidelines, and are fully compensated at rates that are commensurate with the provision of high quality legal representation and reflect the extraordinary responsibilities in death penalty representation.
The commission also recommended that funds be appropriated to fully reimburse counties for payments for defense services and reexamine the current limitations on reimbursement to counties for the expenses of homicide trials, that California counties provide adequate funding for the appointment and performance of trial counsel in death penalty cases in full compliance with ABA Guidelines.
Without taking sides, a majority of the commission presented detailed information on replacing the death penalty with a maximum sentence of lifetime incarceration or narrowing the "special circumstances" justifying the death penalty, to "assure a fully informed debate."
Framing the debate in terms of the total cost of four alternatives, the commissioners estimated that California could annually spend $137.7 million to maintain its current dysfunctional system, $216.8 million to reduce the length of the process to 12 years, $121 million for a more narrow death penalty or $11.5 million by replacing the death penalty with a policy of terminal confinement.
Leaving no doubt that the report is a stern rebuke to the whole system, five commissioners from the law enforcement community lodged an angry dissent, claiming it will "undermine public confidence in our capital punishment law and procedure," that it failed to adequately discuss arguments in favor of the death penalty, that uniformity among counties in seeking the death penalty for comparable crimes is not mandated and that capital punishment reflects the will of the people.
But a far larger group of 10 commissioners, took the unprecedented step of filing two supplemental statements calling for an outright repeal of the death penalty based on various factors including its cost, the risk of wrongful executions, the disproportionate impact on communities of color, geographic disparities, disadvantages facing poor defendants, the unjust bias triggered by allowing only "death qualified" jurors, how the death penalty forecloses the possibility of healing and redemption and the example set by other civilized societies that have abolished the death penalty.
The last time a state, New Jersey, undertook such a comprehensive examination of its death penalty system, it led to its abolition. Justice Harry Blackmun ended his career on the Supreme Court by declaring that he would no longer "tinker with the machinery of death." Unless California is prepared to divert hundreds of millions of dollars year in and year out to fund the recommended reforms, the time has come for this state to end the death penalty once and for all.
This article originally appeared in the Daily Journal on July 8, 2008.
The Death Penalty is a Shameful Waste of Taxpayers' Money
Posted by Stefanie on July 1st, 2008
|Chair of the California Commission, John Van De Kamp, at the press conference on June 30, 2008|
A new report by the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice has found that the death penalty costs California taxpayers $137 million dollars each year. This is a shameful waste of California's scarce public safety resources -- and our tax dollars.
The Commission concluded that replacing the death penalty with permanent imprisonment would save our state more than $125 million dollars each year.
This is money that could be spent on more effective violence prevention programs and other services that would actually make our communities safer, such child abuse prevention programs, drug and alcohol treatment, mental health care, education, and services for victims of crime. The death penalty is failed public policy, let's end the charade.
An op-ed by DPF Board Member Nancy Oliveira published in the San Francisco Chronicle yesterday explored better uses for our tax dollars. It was accompanied by an excellent chart.
So did a KQED perspectives piece by Judy Kerr, CCV's Victim Liaison and Spokesperson.
This just in...
Posted by Stefanie on June 26th, 2008
The California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice just sent out this press release.
CALIFORNIA COMMISSION ON THE FAIR ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE ANNOUNCES PLANS FOR RELEASE OF REPORT AND RECOMMENDATIONS ON THE ADMINISTRATION OF THE DEATH PENALTY IN CALIFORNIA.
The California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, created by the California State Senate to examine the causes of wrongful convictions and make recommendations and proposals to further insure that the administration of criminal justice in California is just, fair, and accurate, announced that it will release its tenth and final report, addressing the administration of the death penalty in California, on Monday, June 30, 2008. The report will be posted on the Commission's website, www.ccfaj.org, at 9 a.m. on Monday morning.
Members of the Commission, including Chair John Van de Kamp and Executive Director Gerald F. Uelmen, will participate in a press conference to discuss the contents of the report at 1:00 p.m. on Monday afternoon, June 30, in Room 1190 (The Governor's Press Room) at the State Capitol in Sacramento.
The Report, which is over 100 pages in length, is the first comprehensive review of the operation of California's death penalty law since its initial enactment in 1978. The Commission conducted three public hearings throughout California, and heard the testimony of 72 witnesses in preparing this report. The California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice will expire on July 1, 2008.
Gerald F. Uelmen, Executive Director
Proposed death row facility to cost millions more than originally projected
Posted by Stefanie on June 10th, 2008
A new report by the CA State Auditor reveals that the proposed death row housing facility will cost far more than originally projected by the CDCR. The projected costs for building and maintaining the new death row facility for the next 20 years are shocking.
READ DPF'S PRESS RELEASE.
June 10, 2008
The Governor of California
President pro Tempore of the Senate
Speaker of the Assembly
Sacramento, California 95814
Dear Governor and Legislative Leaders:
This letter report presents the first portion of the analysis conducted by the Bureau of State Audits (bureau) concerning the costs for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (Corrections) to build a new condemned inmate complex (CIC) at San Quentin State Prison (San Quentin). Understanding that Corrections' capital outlay budget change proposal for the new CIC is being discussed during the budget hearings for fiscal year 200809, we are focusing this letter report on the cost to build the CIC at San Quentin. Our second report, scheduled for public release in July 2008, will include cost estimates to build a CIC at alternate locations in California.
The Joint Legislative Audit Committee (audit committee) asked the bureau to review the original plans and costs for the CIC project and compare them with the current plans and projected costs through the end of construction. To address this request, we obtained the services of a consultant specializing in estimating the cost of prison construction and operations Criminal Justice Institute, Inc.and conducted the following analyses:
• Reviewed the original project cost plan and compared it to the current project cost plan to determine the cause of the increase.
• Determined whether the estimated costs of the current project are reasonable.
• Determined whether the size of the proposed CIC would meet Corrections' needs 20 years into the future.
• Assessed the financial impact of further delays on the cost of the CIC project.
In 2003 the Legislature approved Corrections' request for $220 million to build a new CIC at San Quentin. According to Corrections, however, before construction could begin, the cost of the project increased significantly due to increases in the cost of construction materials, design changes, the need to address environmental concerns, and unforeseen costs, such as those to mitigate soil problems. To minimize these increases, Corrections modified its plan several times and eventually reduced the size of the complex from eight housing units to six and from 1,024 cells to 768 cells. Despite the 25 percent reduction in the size of the CIC, Corrections now estimates the cost of the project at $356 million, an increase of $136 million, or 62 percent.
Analyses by our consultant suggest that the cost to construct the CIC will exceed Corrections' recent estimate. Although Corrections reasonably estimated construction costs, it was precluded from applying realistic escalation rates, and delays from the anticipated start date will add to project costs. Additionally, Corrections did not include the costs to activate and operate the CIC in its estimated costs. Our consultant estimates that the cost to construct the CIC will exceed Corrections' estimate of $356 million by $39.3 million and that the cost to activate the new CIC will reach $7.3 million. Furthermore, our consultant estimates that the average new staffing costs to operate the new CIC will average $58.8 million per year, for a total of approximately $1.2 billion over the next 20 years.
Corrections currently plans to double-cell (placing two inmates in one cell) certain condemned inmates to maximize the CIC's capacity; however, our consultant and other experts we spoke with raised concerns with this proposal. Specifically, the experts stated that capital cases often contain very personal, private, and sensitive materials and that doublecelling raises serious concerns about maintaining confidentiality during the preparation to defend a condemned inmate during the appeal process. In addition, our consultant expressed concern that doublecelling increases the risk of harm to the inmates who are housed together, particularly for long periods of time. If doublecelling condemned inmates occurs as planned, we estimate that the CIC's 1,152-inmate capacity will be reached in 2035; however, if the plan to double-cell inmates is not a feasible approach, the CIC will reach capacity in 2014, less than three years after it is expected to open.
The audit committee also asked us to review the alternative sites considered by Corrections and determine whether the cost/benefit analysis for each site considered all relevant factors. In our report 2003-130, titled California Department of Corrections: Its Plans to Build a New Condemned-Inmate Complex at San Quentin Are Proceeding, but Its Analysis of Alternative Locations and Costs Was Incomplete, issued in March 2004, we concluded that Corrections did not consider all feasible locations and relevant costs in making its decision to build the CIC at San Quentin. Our followup review found that Corrections has not performed any additional analyses of alternatives since we published the previous report.
We were also asked to address other issues that we intend to include in our second report, scheduled for public release in July 2008. Specifically, the audit committee asked us to identify and analyze alternative sites, including assessing the relative benefits and costs associated with constructing a CIC at San Quentin compared with the benefits and costs of constructing it elsewhere, as well as evaluating the possibility of using the currently proposed CIC site at San Quentin for other purposes. We were asked to consider factors such as the alternate sites' capital outlay costs; projected expenditures for ongoing maintenance and operations; and access and proximity to state and federal courts, legal counsel, medical care, and condemned inmates' families. Our analysis will also include, for locations where doing so would be feasible, the cost of constructing six two-story buildings to house condemned inmates in a CIC at each location, including San Quentin, versus constructing three four-story "stacked" buildings to house condemned inmates, as currently proposed by Corrections. Finally, we were asked to compare the cost of constructing a CIC in California with other states' costs to construct the same type of facility.
Click here for:
Fact Sheet in PDF Format
Report in PDF Format
For questions regarding the contents of this report, please contact
Margarita Fernandez, Chief of Public Affairs, at (916) 445-0255.
California State Auditor
Bureau of State Audits
555 Capitol Mall, Suite 300
Sacramento, California 95814
916.445.0255 or TTY 916.445.0033
DAY THIRTY: June 8, 2008
Posted by on June 8th, 2008
|Mike Farrell, President of Death Penalty Focus|
On Saturday, May 10, actor/activist Mike Farrell(M*A*S*H) set out on an 8000-mile, 25-city book tour to promote the publication of the paperback edition of his memoir, Just Call Me Mike: A Journey to Actor and Activist (Akashic Books).As the presidential race kicks into even higher gear, Mike is driving himself across the country and back, networking with the human rights and social-justice organizations sponsoring each event along the way. Following are excerpts from his tour dispatches currently running on The Huffington Post. [TO READ ALL THE DISPATCHES IN ONE PLACE CLICK ON HERE]
DAY THIRTY - Sunday, June 8, 2008
Up early again, but not so far to drive this day. Henry Tennenbaum's show is live on KRON-TV bright and early on Sunday morning here in San Francisco, so I'm happy to stop in. And it's an extra pleasure this morning as the guest preceding me is Will Durst, a very bright and extraordinarily funny guy who satirizes political figures on both sides of the aisle. Will and I first met when he appeared at a benefit for Artists United to Win Without War, the group Robert Greenwald and I started in the hope of raising the level of debate in the country and awakening the American people before Cheney/Bush invaded Iraq. (We failed.) Will really makes me laugh. To my delight, he has helped us by appearing at DPF's "Stand Up For Justice" comedy night a number of times since.
Henry is fun and very energetic, so he fits a lot of information into a short interview and then I'm out of there in time for Mule and I to make our way to the North Beach area and another interview, this with Brian Copeland on KGO Radio's Newstalk. Brian is another standup comic who has appeared for us on DPF's comedy night. He's also a very astute commentator and a talented writer. His book, "Not a Genuine Black Man," is at once a funny and tragic tale of his young life and a searing indictment of the racial bias in San Leandro, CA, not too many years ago.
Interviews out of the way, our next stop is at Book Passage in Corte Madera, CA, about ten minutes north of the Golden Gate Bridge. Elaine Petrocelli, the proprietor, is a passionate champion of books, a respected community leader and a fierce defender of the endangered independent bookstore. She, her husband and their events manager, Kate Ferguson, provide their devoted customers the opportunity to meet all the significant authors who pass through the Bay Area and they were even able to slip me into the mix.
This was actually my second time at Book Passage - Shelley and I were here when the book came out in hard cover over a year ago - and the enthusiastic embrace offered today makes it feel a lot like coming home.
The event is co-sponsored by Death Penalty Focus and my friends Lance Lindsey and Stefanie Faucher, respectively the Executive Director and Program Director of DPF, are there to provide support, answer questions about our work and offer opportunities for people to become involved. These two are truly the dynamic duo of DPF. Lance is that wonder of wonders, a blindingly intelligent, soft-spoken, dedicated, kind, graceful and completely self-effacing man who does this work because his principles demand it. He's become a true and trusted friend. Stefanie, far too young to have the grasp of issues and organizational genius she demonstrates daily, simply astounds us all with her energy and commitment. Along with another ally, Natasha Minsker of the ACLU of Northern California, Stefanie was named Abolitionist of the Year by the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. When we end this blight, she will have been one of the primary reasons why.
A large and enthusiastic group has gathered and Elaine, already a regular and generous supporter, introduces me and kindly announces that 10% of any sales during this afternoon's event will be contributed to DPF. The presentation itself seems to go well and, in short, we have a ball - might even have recruited some new members.
In the evening, DPF board member Elizabeth Zitrin and her husband Clint hosted Stefanie, Lance, his wife Ruta and me for dinner at Ristorante Milano, a wonderful little Italian Restaurant on Russian Hill in which they share a part ownership. Elizabeth, an attorney and a fountain of energy, serves not only on our board but is also Death Penalty Abolition Coordinator for Amnesty International, on the board of the ACLU of Northern California, on the advisory board for the Northern California Innocence Project, and represents DPF on the Steering Committee of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty in Europe, where she chairs the USA Working Group. As said, a fountain of energy.
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