Saturday, October 20, 2012

More on Proposition 34

In response to the October 5 post on Proposition 34, William M. Dennis, Douglas Scott Mickey and Donald Ray Young, inmates on Death Row at San Quentin State Prison in California, have written to express their supporting views. 

You don't need to be a resident of California to support Prop 34.  Please click here for more information:

Reconsidering California's Death Penalty

By William M. Dennis

At the time of this writing 13% of California voters are undecided on how to vote on Proposition 34, which replaces the death penalty with a sentence of life without possibility of parole (LWOP.)  The fundamental question California votes have to ask themselves on Proposition 34 is “What is in our best interest when it comes to public safety and the cost of maintaining a broken death penalty law?”  Imposing a sentence of death costs California taxpayers more than $180 million a year over what it would to sentence the same people to LWOP.  And by all accounts the system of capital punishment isn’t working as it was intended.

Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978, 13 men have been executed.  Former San Quentin Warden Jeanne Woodford stated, “We have spent more than $4 billion on the death penalty to date.”  That averages out to one execution every 2.6 years and $300 million per execution.  As of now there are 729 women and men on California’s death row.  Even if California’s courts stopped sentencing any more people to death, at the rate we’ve been going it would take the State 1,906 years to execute everyone currently locked up on death row.  Clearly the system is broken and imposes an unsustainable and costly burden on California taxpayers.

Louisiana has the highest murder rate in the United States at 11.8 per one hundred thousand people, followed by New Mexico at 8.7, then Maryland at 7.7.  All three of these states have the death penalty law and impose it.  Does it make their citizens any safer?  Vermont and Iowa have two of the lowest murder rates in the U.S., both at 1.1 per hundred thousand.  Yet neither of these states have the death penalty.  These numbers show conclusively that the death penalty isn’t a deterrent and has no bearing on improving public safety.

Then there is the hidden cost of sentencing women and men to death.  California law mandates an automatic review of all death penalty cases by the State Supreme Court.  California’s Supreme Court estimates that it spends one third of its time and resources reviewing death penalty cases, which make up only about 1% of the Court’s caseload.  Most non-death penalty briefs submitted to the Court require one to five pages.  LWOP briefs average ten pages.  To file a death penalty brief takes well over 100 pages . . . and that’s before including the Attorney General’s equally cumbersome brief.  Cases representing only one-percent if the Court’s caseload, while taking up one-third of the Court’s time and resources, impose an unreasonable burden on the Court, and result in costly delays in reviewing non-death penalty cases.  Too many cases have to wait years before even being heard, let alone ruled upon by the Court.

If the voters fail to pass Proposition 34, there are plans to build an ultra-modern high security death row housing complex on San Quentin prison grounds to ease overcrowding in antiquated housing units.  The price to erect this state-of-the-art death row complex has been estimated to cost California taxpayers more than $650 million before construction is complete.  For the moment these plans are on hold.

Imposing the death penalty in states with the highest murder rates has not worked as a deterrent.  Sentencing a person to life without possibility of parole fully protects the public at a much lower cost, and will save $180 million every year.  This savings could be better spent keeping public schools open and improving our educational system, increasing public safety by putting more police on the streets, and maintaining local fire departments.  It is in the best interest of California’s citizens to vote YES on Proposition 34.  It would relieve taxpayers of a prohibitively expensive and broken death penalty system while increasing public safety and protecting educational opportunities for California’s children.

William M. Dennis
D-95701   NB S6 13
San Quentin State Prison
San Quentin, CA  94974

Are You For Abolishing The Death Penalty . . .

But Thinking of Voting Against Proposition 34, the S.A.F.E California Act?

By Douglas Scott Mickey

A majority Yes-vote on Proposition 34, a ballot measure, abolishes California’s death penalty and replaces it with life in prison without possibility of parole (LWOP) – retroactively for the 729 men and women currently awaiting execution on California’s death row.  A handful of death row prisoners, family members, associates, and an appellate attorney have been making news by publicly denouncing and/or advocating a No-vote on Proposition 34.  In all the so-called left-wing arguments for why people against the death penalty should case a No-vote on Proposition 34 there’s been a deafening silence about the consequence if this ballot initiative fails to pass: dozens of men and women will be executed long before California gets another opportunity to abolish the death sentence. 

Of the handful of death row prisoners speaking out against Proposition 34, only one of them has any real “skin in the game.”  That is, their necks aren’t the ones being put on the executioner’s chopping block.  Only one of these men has exhausted his appeals and will be among the first wave to be executed should Proposition 34 fail to pass.  These other men have several years or decades to before their appeal process is exhausted.  Some of them haven’t even been appointed an attorney; until then their appeal’s clock doesn’t even start ticking.  So it’s all well and good for these men and their advocates to attempt to discourage voters from passing Proposition 34.  They have nothing to lose in waiting for a ballot measure that’s more to their liking.  I, and others like me, have increasingly been subjected to some of the “Johnny-come-lately” death row prisoners mocking us with remarks such as “We’ll have to sacrifice some of you ‘old timers’ now so the rest of us can get a better deal a few years from now.”  That doesn’t sound to me like someone who is “anti-capital punishment.”

What isn’t breaking news is the representatives of the State’s top law enforcement groups, victims’ rights groups, and right-wing politicians are riding on the same bandwagon as the life-wing opponents to Proposition 34’s repeal of the California death penalty.  Although these two groups come from opposite ends of the political spectrum and pose vastly different agendas for voting “no” on Proposition 34, their short-term goals are identical, i.e., to prevent the S.A.F.E. Act from passing on Election Day, November 6, 2012.  Politics indeed makes for strange bedfellows. 

The Proposition 34 proponents’ best argument is that “nobody is being executed, the system is broken, so let’s replace it with the less expensive LWOP option.”  Last year it cost California taxpayers $184 million over what it would have cost to house death row prisoners if they had been sentenced to life in prison.  Moreover, to fully implement the death penalty will cost State taxpayers another $85 million a year for court costs and attorney fees.  And that’s before calculation for the ever-increasing growth in the death row population. 

Governor Jerry Brown and State Attorney General Kamala D. Harris have pledged to carry out the State’s death penalty law.  Those hoping for clemency should know that Governor Brown has stated he needs “another term” to finish balancing California’s budget.  Consequently Governor Brown has directed the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to develop a one-drug protocol for lethal injection executions.  The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled this on-drug protocol to be constitutional in other states.  If Proposition 34 fails, California’s new single-drug protocol could be published for public comment the day after the election.  By mid-summer 2013 the flood gates to California’s execution chamber could be wide open for business – putting to death a growing number of men and women whose appeals have been exhausted. 

Once the execution machine is up and running, the proponents of Proposition 34 can no longer claim with any conviction that the “the system is broken.”  By the time the next election cycle rolls around these “pro-lifers” will have to come up with a far more convincing rationale for abolishing capital punishment. 

Right now Proposition 34’s proponents have a funding advantage of about $3 million over the opposition’s $40,000.  Contrary to what left-wing opponents of Proposition 34 claim, the ACLU has endorsed the ballot initiative to the turn of $325,000.  But if Proposition 34 fails even while pending executions are on hold, and even while proponents have an overwhelming advantage in funding, then by the time the next election cycle comes around, it’s going to be nearly impossible to get the necessary support and funding for a “new and progressively improved” anti-death penalty ballot measure. 

So if you are against the death penalty, please don’t be misled into believing the hype that “Nobody’s going to be executed anyway!”  The appellate attorneys have done their best and all but exhausted the constitutional grounds for postponing executions.  The number of men and women whose appeals have run their course continues to grow ever larger and larger.  The single-drug protocol has been ruled constitutional and is being used in executions in several states.  The State sponsored execution machinery suffers no shortage of the necessary drug to render death to any number of hapless human beings. 

Legislatures in other pro-death penalty states are anxiously watching to see if California abolishes capital punishment.  Many of them are ready to follow California’s lead.  If the S.A. F.E. Initiative succeeds in passing, then it would save countless lives on death rows across our great nation.  The world is watching to see what California voters will do here on November 6, 2012.  Will they rewrite California’s history to become a beacon of compassion toward the least of us, or to become an ever darkening cloud of social intolerance and political backwardness?  On which side of history do you want your vote to make a stand?

Make no mistake, if Proposition 34 fails, then a rush to execute dozens of human beings will be unleashed upon your “Golden State” sooner and more viciously than you might imagine in what many consider to be the world’s most advanced civilized society.  The “Global Village” is watching.  Vote for the aspirations of your conscience, not for the emotional strivings of those hell-bent on getting a better deal for themselves or to advance their political ideals regardless of how many lives and how many taxpayer dollars it will cost society along the way . . . not only here, but also across the country. 

Douglas Mickey

Douglas Mickey has been on death row over 30 years and will be among the first to be executed if Proposition 34 doesn't pass.

Douglas Scott Mickey
C73900 NB S6 30
San Quentin State Prison
San Quentin, CA  94974

Pine Box or Ballot Box

The Savings, Accountability and Full Enforcement for California Act

By Donald Ray Young

This is our time to abolish capital punishment in California via the ballot box.  If we allow this killing machine to resuscitate, we can expect executions of the more than 725 death-row prisoners at a rate that will send shock waves throughout Texas.

Which side are we on?  We cannot stand in the middle of the road this time.  Abolish capital punishment in California or support government sponsored premeditated murder of death-row prisoners.  We have over 14 people with fully exhausted appeals.  The sole protection that stands between them and a pine box . . . is our vote.

We said, “I AM TROY DAVIS.”  Many of us said that we were Stanley “Tookie” Williams, Cameron Todd Willingham was another innocent person on death row; the Texas criminal justice system executed him in our name.  If we had abolished capital punishment, all three of these men would still be alive, able to prove their innocence to the world.  No one enjoys a prison sentence of life without the possibility of parole (LWOP), but it definitely keeps Mumia Abu-Jamal speaking truth to power. 

Before being distracted debating how cruel LWOP is, let us complete the urgent business of abolishing capital punishment with our votes.  Death penalty proponents have revived their rhetorical corporate media fueled propaganda campaign. 

Californians, putative abolitionists and death penalty opponents:  Keeping death row intact when given the option to abolish capital punishment is nothing more than subterfuge – covertly supporting what we claim to loath and despise.  Take out the fear and face the facts:  most life and lengthy prison sentences end with the prisoner dying in prison. 

As it stands, prisoners convicted of murder – innocent or guilty - face capital punishment or LWOP.  The SAFE California Act will convert all 725 death sentences to LWOP, making LWOP the harshest punishment for convicted murderers.  The right to appeal convictions to the state and federal courts will still exist, with the same constitutional guarantees afforded LWOP prisoners.  And after all the appellate issues are exhausted they do not kill the appellant.

While many disagree with certain aspects of the SAFE California Act – for example, $30 million a year for three years given to municipal police and prosecutors, coupled with the SAFE California Act’s florid pro-prosecution language – if this road takes capital punishment off the table, we must travel.  The United States has executed over 1,290 prisoners since 1977.

The future belongs to us and step-by-step we will seize power.  After winning this highly contentious battle we will join resources to abolish all forms of permanent imprisonment.  All prisoners should have the right to be released if they are not a threat to society. 

Since 1978 capital punishment has left California with a fatally flawed system.  Over $4 billion was wasted, 13 executions and 3 exonerations.  This is our once in a lifetime opportunity.  Let us choose the ballot box – or the pine box will choose us.

I look forward to your contact and communications.

Donald Young

Donald Ray Young has been on San Quentin’s death row in 2006.  Donald is a paralegal with an Associate of Arts degree in Sociology. He hopes to pursue further education, including a law degree that will aid him in achieving his exoneration. His first book is scheduled for release in 2013, and he blogs at:

Donald Ray Young
E78474 East Block
San Quentin State Prison
San Quentin, CA  94974

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