Former California Superior Court Judge Donald McCartin, a self-described “right-wing Republican” who earned the nickname “the hanging judge” for the numerous death penalty sentences he handed out, penned an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times yesterday calling on California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) and the state legislature to abolish the death penalty. Doing so, McCartin writes, would save the state “hundreds of millions of dollars” that could go toward filling the state’s $25 billion budget gap:
I watch today as Gov. Brown wrestles with the massive debt that is suffocating our state and hear him say he doesn’t want to “play games.” But I cringe when I learn that not playing games amounts to cuts to kindergarten, cuts to universities, cuts to people with special needs — and I hear no mention of the simple cut that would save hundreds of millions of dollars, countless man-hours, unimaginable court time and years of emotional torture for victim’s family members waiting for that magical sense of “closure” they’ve been falsely promised with death sentences that will never be carried out. [...]
It’s time to stop playing the killing game. Let’s use the hundreds of millions of dollars we’ll save to protect some of those essential services now threatened with death. Let’s stop asking people like me to lie to those victim’s family members.
Indeed, the Northern California chapter of the ACLU estimates that California spends $137 million each year on death penalty cases, mostly on legal fees, including the mandatory appeals process. In contrast, “the alternative of permanent imprisonment would cost just $11 million.” In addition to saving $125 million each year, abolishing the death penalty would allow the state to forgo its plan to build a new $400 million death row facility at San Quentin State Prison, a project that was put on hold earlier this year, bringing total savings to more than $1 billion over the next five years.
With California considering deep cuts to a plethora of programs, including education, law enforcement, and the state college and university program, the San Francisco Chronicle estimated that the $117 million alone could pay for 1,900 new California Highway Patrol officers, 2,100 new teachers, or help with tuition for 103,000 University of California students.
Several other states have considered abolishing the death penalty, including Kansas, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Montana, and Maryland. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D) signed a law abolishing the state’s death penalty earlier this month, saving taxpayers an estimated $20 million annually.
There are numerous social justice arguments for the abolishment of the death penalty. But with lawmakers across the country facing daunting budget gaps, cutting the death penalty should be an obvious choice.