Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

Ending the Death Penalty

Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

Ending the Death Penalty

Article excerpt

A California measure would fight crime-and deficits-by repealing capital punishment.

IN NOVEMBER, Californians will vote on a ballot initiative that would end the death penalty in the state: the Safety, Accountability, and Full Enforcement Act of 2012, known as the SAFE California Act. The backdrop of this vote is California's deep economic crisis and the economic savings to be gained from ending capital punishment. But when the debate is largely concerned that the cost of killing criminals is just too high, where does faith come into the conversation?

If the measure passes, all 725 death penalty sentences in California will be converted to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. The supporters of the initiative have one main mantra: "California can't afford the death penalty!" This initiative delivers on savings-around SI billion in the first five years, say sup¬porters-due to halting the death penalty's expensive legal processes and increased costs for death row detention.

The initiative also redirects some of those funds, $30 million per year for three years, to counties across the state to help investi¬gate unsolved cases of rape and murder. In 60 percent of rapes and 36 percent of mur¬ders in California, no one is even charged with the crime, let alone convicted.

Death row prisoners are generally not allowed to work; once their sentences are changed under this initiative, they will be required to work inside the prison and to pay into California's victim compensation fund.

People of faith usually argue to end the death penalty on gospel and ethical grounds, citing the command "thou shalt not kill," the call to forgive, and the call to love our enemies. However, the most compelling variable at play in this historical moment is California's budget crisis-in this case, as always, the budget is a moral document. Where we spend our money as a society dis-closes our true values and priorities: It shows whether we believe in the God of life or the power of death.

The SAFE California Act has an impres-sive and diverse list of supporters, including the former warden of San Quentin, Jeanne Woodford, who oversaw four executions; Don Heller and Ron Briggs, who helped write and pass California's death penalty law in 1978; several victims' rights groups; and a former California attorney general. …

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