The decision to repeal the death penalty and impose life sentences without parole for prisoners will soon be in the hands of California voters.
The initiative to repeal capital punishment in the state qualified for November’s ballot by collecting more than a half million valid signatures, according to the Secretary of State’s office.
The measure named Savings, Accountability and Full Enforcement for California Act would replace California’s death penalty with life in prison with no chance of parole. Convicted killers will remain in high security prisons until they die.
SAFE California also requires persons convicted of murder to work and pay restitution into a victim’s compensation fund and creates the SAFE California Fund, which takes $30 million a year for three years in budget savings and puts it into the investigation of unsolved rape and murder cases. Because of security concerns, death row inmates are not currently allowed to hold jobs in prison.
Proponents of the measure say it will save the state millions of dollars and will ultimately improve public safety.
“I oversaw four executions at San Quentin. I can tell you as a law enforcement officer with 34 years of experience those executions did not make any one of us safer,” said Jeanne Woodford, former warden at San Quentin state prison and the official supporter of SAFE California Act. “What they did do was consume millions of dollars in resources that would be better spent on solving crime. Now, Californians will have a real chance to improve personal safety by replacing the death penalty with life in prison without parole, and directing some of the savings to solving more rape and murder cases.”
California reinstated the death penalty in 1978 and since that time has executed 13 inmates.
“Back in 1978, we did not have an alternative sentence that would keep convicted killers behind bars forever,” Woodford said. “We certainly did not know that we would spend $4 billion on 13 executions. Our system is broken, expensive and it always will carry the grave risk of a mistake.”
The state halted executions in 2006 because of legal issues raised over the drugs used in lethal injections.
Those allied against the measure include the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, which recently filed a lawsuit against the state to force the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to use the death penalty.
The foundation filed the lawsuit on behalf of Bradley Winchell, whose 17-year-old sister Terri Winchell was raped and murdered by Michael Morales in 1981.
The foundation is asking California’s Third District Court of Appeal to order the CDCR to exercise its authority under state law to adopt a one-drug lethal injection method currently used in the states of Ohio, Washington, and Arizona to end the six-year delay of Morales’s sentence.
A 2010 poll by the Public Policy Institute of California and Field Poll showed California voters’ prefer life without the possibility of parole over the death penalty.