Time and again, academic studies have demonstrated that California's death penalty is a staggering waste of taxpayer money, a legal fiction that gives voters the impression they're being tough on crime even though condemned inmates typically expire of natural causes before making it to the death chamber. A new such study, which is notable because it is based on previously unavailable records from the state Corrections and Rehabilitation Department, comes to the same conclusions we've seen before. But the political outcome is unlikely to change until voters figure out that the problem lies with capital punishment itself, not with the dysfunctional way it's practiced in California.
The latest analysis, from U.S. 9th Circuit Judge Arthur L. Alarcon and Loyola Law School professor Paula M. Mitchell, shows that California is spending $184 million a year more on its 714 death-row inmates than it would if they had been sentenced to life without parole. That tops the estimate of the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, whose 2008 report said capital punishment was costing the state $137 million a year. The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, meanwhile, estimates we could save $1 billion over five years by eliminating the death penalty, in an analysis that includes the $400-million cost of making needed upgrades to San Quentin State Prison's death row.