Debate rekindled over death penalty in U.S.

09:40, June 29, 2011      

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A bill introduced in California to abolish death penalty has rekindled a debate in the United States over whether death sentences should be imposed and those on death row should be executed.

California State Senator Loni Hancock has introduced a bill to abolish death penalty and everyone on death row would serve life in prison without the possibility of parole.

One important reason cited by the senator is that the government has no enough money to deal with death sentence cases or execute those on the death row.

"We cannot afford the expensive failure that the California death penalty has become," Hancock said.

California spent more than four billion dollars on capital punishment cases since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978, according to a recent study.

During that time, 13 inmates have been executed, which comes out to 308 million dollars per execution. According to Hancock, the main problem is the appeals process, which can take 15 to 20 years.

"It costs us 184 million dollars a year to maintain the death penalty, and you know you can send a lot of kids to college for 184 million dollars on full scholarship," said Hancock.

Hancock expected his bill will be sent to the November 2012 ballot, so voters can decide what issues are the most important for the state of California.

"From providing education to our kids, to maintaining our local police officers who really make us safe on the streets," said Hancock.

There are more than 700 inmates on death row in California, including notorious killers such as David Westerfield and Scott Peterson.

A three-year study by Judge Arthur Alarcon, who sits on the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and his law clerk, Loyola Law School Professor Paula Mitchell, who spent three years examining federal, state and local costs associated with capital punishment, showed that maintaining the death penalty in California costs at least 184 million dollars more a year than it would simply to leave killers in prison for life, and the average wait for a prisoner between conviction and execution has grown to more than 25 years.

The study also found that California taxpayers have spent an average of 308 million dollars for each of the 13 executions conducted since capital punishment was reinstated in the state in 1978.

Several other reports in recent years, including one in 2009 by the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, have also concluded that executing prisoners is far more expensive than incarcerating them for life.

However, most surveys in California, including a 2010 Field Poll, show continuing support for the death penalty. There have been no executions in California since 2006 because of legal challenges over whether the state's execution procedures violated the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation in Sacramento, which favors capital punishment, told the press the new report has "some good points, but it misses others."

He said the study was right to explore the Legislature's refusal to pass changes that would streamline the process, but disagreed that abolishing the death penalty was an acceptable alternative to simply making capital punishment more efficient.

According to the website, all over the country in the U.S., news stories bemoan and hype the countdown to execution number 1,000. But where are the stories regarding the ripple effects of the heinous crimes that these murderers were executed for committing? Who is counting the victims?

A conservative estimate puts the number of victims of these 1, 000 murderers at 1,895, the website says. "Why do we hear so much about the killers and so little about the victims and their loved ones who are left behind to pick up the pieces? A small sampling of case histories will leave readers shaken."

It cited cases of victims to show that death penalty is necessary.

"We must think about the lives that all 1,895 murdered victims affected. Every one had families, friends, relatives, co-workers, neighbors. The combined loss is incalculable," the website writes.

"With a yearly average of 15,000 murders, the fact that we are reaching 1,000 executions in only a little more than 30 years is proof that capital punishment has been reserved for the worst of the worst," the website stresses.

It says that the attention given to the execution of 1,000 murderers is repugnant, especially when the loudest voices think the death of a convicted murderer is a tragedy. Yet the deaths and suffering of countless victims is only an easily-ignored statistic.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, 35 U.S. states, including California, Florida and Texas, have death penalty while 15 other states including Massachusetts, Michigan and New Mexico have no death penalty.

According to the center, Over 75 percent of the murder victims in cases resulting in an execution were white, even though nationally only 50 percent of murder victims generally are white.

Source: Xinhua
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