Last year, California added 28 inmates to the state's death row, eight of whom were sentenced in Los Angeles County. They aren't in much danger of an early demise, however, thanks largely to legal delays, including a decision Tuesday by state officials not to pursue executions in 2011. The seemingly never-ending court battles mean that convicts in capital cases are far more likely to die of natural causes than by lethal injection. But that won't stop them from costing taxpayers an estimated three times more than other inmates.
Not for the first time, this gives us cause to wonder what good the death penalty in California is doing. Gov. Jerry Brown also personally opposes death sentences, though he appears to lack the courage of his capital convictions. The solution is in plain sight and has been pursued successfully by other states, including Illinois earlier this year: Abolish capital punishment.
The budget-minded Brown last week canceled plans to build a new death row at San Quentin State Prison, noting that it was hard to justify spending $356 million on housing for convicted murderers while services for children, the disabled and seniors were being slashed to the bone. Fair enough. But deferring the problem won't make it go away, as California lawmakers discovered after their practice of ignoring a worsening prison overcrowding crisis was finally ended when federal judges declared the state guilty of unconstitutionally cruel punishment. Similarly, the state can't go on adding to the death row population indefinitely while failing to address San Quentin's severe capacity and design problems.