Waste Watch: California's Death Row Costing Billions
By Erik Rosales
California — The state of California has executed only 13 convicted killers in the last 35 years. As the state continues to keep murderers on death row the price tag for taxpayers continues to rise. While opponents fight against the death penalty, others are fighting a system that spends tax dollars by the hundreds of millions every year to keep convicted killers alive. In California majority of death row inmates sit inside San Quinten State Prison. They are all convicted of the most vicious crimes. Some are repeat killers. The records show they're responsible for the murders of 233 children, and 42 are cop killers. Sacramento Attorney Donald Heller says, "They have single cells. Prisoners have more things than in the general population. They get better food, they have telephones and magazines." Heller wrote the 1978 ballot initiative which passed and reinstated the death penalty in California. He calls that a big mistake. Heller says, "Every capital case cost the county 2 to 3 million dollars on both sides. If you get a multiple defendant case it increases geometrically. There are no easy answers to this." Heller says no one ever expected the number of people on death row to grow so large and taxpayers have to pay for every appeal filed by an inmate. Each of those can be up to 300-thousand dollars, and there are usually several for each death row inmate. U.S. 9th Circuit Judge Arthur Alarcon wrote a study that says unless something big changes. California's death row system will just get worse. So who is to blame? Judge Alarcon says it's not the judiciary system, but his study found the California legislature is at fault. He says cuts in funding by lawmakers to the state public defender's office have backed cases up for years. Judge Alarcon says, "The legislature ignored the wonderful report of the commission it appointed and there is no increase in the funding for those lawyers. So the Supreme Court is saddled with the responsibility of trying to talk lawyers into representing people on death row." For example, the judge says the appeals process now takes ten years or more. It took 17 years for the killer known as 'The Night Stalker' to work through just one appeal. It took so long that Richard Ramirez has died of natural causes while on death row. President of the Howard Jarvis Tax Payers Association says, "This has been kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy for the opponents of the death penalty who have done everything possible to drive up the costs." Coupal says Californians said they want the death penalty the last time they voted on it. But he says reform is needed. Coupal says, "Yes, we don't want cruel and unusual punishment and don't want it to be painful. But by the same token, the extent at which they might feel something has gotten a little overboard because they didn't feel any compassion for their victims." There have been no executions in California for around eight years. That's because lawyers and judges are still arguing over what drugs should be used for lethal injection. And forecasts say that unless things change the state will pay around 30 billion dollars to keep death row going in the next 15 years. And projections are that if California doesn't start carrying out executions. The San Quentin Death Row will soon house more than one thousand men.
KMPH Fox 26 is the Central Valley's news leader, covering Fresno, California and the surrounding area, including Clovis, Madera, Hanford, Visalia, Biola, Kerman, Tranquillity, San Joaquin, Reedley, Coalinga, Avenal, Lemoore, Tulare, Selma, Caruthers, Tollhouse, Three Rivers, Porterville, and Merced.