The Slow Decline Of The Death Penalty Continues

Abdullah al-Qahtani, a Saudi Arabian national, faces imminent execution in Iraq – a sentence based on “confessions” he says were false and obtained through torture.  His story is a perfect illustration of why the death penalty is the ultimate violation of human rights; how ceding to the state the power to kill prisoners is connected to unfair trials, torture, and other abuses.

As Amnesty International’s survey of the death penalty worldwide in 2012 reports, Saudi Arabia and Iraq are both among the top executioners in the world, along with China, Iran, and, yes, the United States. The U.S. was once again the 5th most prolific executioner in 2012, and its death penalty continued to be plagued with bias and error and misconduct by the state (as has been exposed in the Reggie Clemons case).

With 15 executions in 2012, Texas would have ranked 8th in the world, between Sudan and Afghanistan.


California: 2012 Ballot Initiative To Replace Death Penalty

In California, on average, 46% of murders and 56% of rapes go unsolved each year.  For victims and their families, and for the cause of public safety, these numbers are profoundly disturbing.

A new ballot initiative (changing the law in California often requires a direct public referendum) aims to do something about this, by redirecting funds wasted on the death penalty ($184 million per year according to a recent study), to local police and prosecutors to ensure that more crimes actually get solved. Since 1978, there have been 13 executions in California, at a cost of $308 million per execution.  In 2009 alone, the best year of the decade for solving murders, there were 722 unsolved homicides.

Bringing killers and rapists to justice is obviously very important for victims and their families, and is also clearly vital to public safety. And whatever deterrent value you might think the death penalty has (probably none), it is vastly overshadowed by the reality that, now, if you commit murder in California, you have an almost 50/50 chance of never getting caught at all.

The proposed initiative would also require those convicted of murder to work in prison and provide restitution to victims’ families.   And, importantly, it would end California’s shameful association with the notorious human rights abuse of capital punishment.

If this initiative gets on the ballot and voters approve it in November 2012, California will finally escape from the financial (and human rights) black hole that is the death penalty, and will be free to focus its resources more effectively on public safety and on the real needs of victims.