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Ending the death penalty -- a dollars and sense decision

San Quentin's execution chamber
Chalk up another victim of California's budget crunch: The death penalty.

Seems that only 10 death sentences were handed out in the state in 2011, down from 29 in each of the last two years, The Times reported Friday.

Of course, it's not just about the money. But read between the lines: 

Legal analysts on both sides of the debate say a broken appeals process is driving the trend. Prosecutors faced with tight budgets have had to make tough choices about the time and money needed to pursue a death sentence, while some family members of murder victims have pressed them to pursue the swifter justice of lifelong imprisonment with no chance of getting out.

Or, put more bluntly:

"Like every other state and county office, the district attorney's offices are feeling the pinch of the budget crisis and are painfully aware of how limited their resources are. They may be making different choices because of that," said Paula Mitchell, a Loyola Law School professor and coauthor of a study this year that estimated the cost of maintaining capital punishment in California since 1978 at $4 billion.

Mitchell and U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Arthur L. Alarcon estimated that the state spends $184 million a year on its death row inmates while the prospects for resuming executions recede amid complex legal challenges.

This news comes on top of the "realignment" of inmates  that the state is undergoing to relieve prison overcrowding.

I know they used to say "If you can't do the time, don't do the crime," but are we headed for "If you do the crime, we can't afford to have you to do the time"?

Now, readers will say this:  1) There's plenty of money to execute people; the politicians just spend it badly; 2) Why mess with appeals; these guys are guilty, so get on with it; 3) Gov. Jerry Brown and those nasty liberals aren't doing their jobs on purpose; 4) illegal immigrants are to blame (sorry, I know that doesn't make sense to most people, but trust me …)

Really, though, isn't it just time we stop executing people? 

If you want to use the excuse that we can't afford it, fine. But the bottom line is this: Executions aren't about deterring crime; they're about revenge.

Ever see one of those videos in which a member of the Taliban uses an AK-47 to execute some poor soul?  Or how about in Iran, where they hang people from construction cranes? Or China, where it's a bullet in the back of the head -- a bullet that the condemned pays for?

Barbaric, right?

Well, just because we put a needle in a guy's arm and inject him with drugs, that doesn't make it any less barbaric.

So let's stop it. Now.

And if it saves us money to just put people in prison and throw away the key, so much the better.


Death penalty -- by the numbers

The death penalty: valid yet targeted 

Proposition 13 lawsuit: Threat or farce? [The reply]

--Paul Whitefield

Photo: San Quentin State Prison's execution chamber. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times


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The Opinion L.A. blog is the work of Los Angeles Times Editorial Board membersNicholas Goldberg, Robert Greene, Carla Hall, Jon Healey, Sandra Hernandez, Karin Klein, Michael McGough, Jim Newton and Dan Turner. Columnists Patt Morrison and Doyle McManus also write for the blog, as do Letters editor Paul Thornton, copy chief Paul Whitefield and senior web producer Alexandra Le Tellier.

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