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Should the death penalty be overturned in California?

An opponent of the death penalty holds a sign during a rally.
An opponent of the death penalty holds a sign during a rally.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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An initiative that would do away with the death penalty in favor of life without parole is one step closer to the November ballot. Backers of the Savings Accountability and Full Enforcement California Act, or SAFE are submitting what they’re calling “far and above the minimum” number of signatures in three California cities to qualify the initiative to go before the voters.

If enacted, the measure would have a number of far reaching affects. It would retroactively turn all death penalty convictions into life sentences, require prisoners to work while incarcerated with their wages going to pay any restitution they may owe and would also set aside $100 million to solve future crimes.

A Legislative Analysts Office review of the bill found it would save about $50 million dollars annually. The savings would come from shorter murder trials, a cut-down in incarceration costs in the pre-trial period and fewer man hours that law enforcement personnel would have to spend prepping for and participating in murder trials.

Opponents of SAFE however question those cost savings. They say there’s no real way to know how much money SAFE would save because the numbers don’t actually exist. In addition, the state could save millions if they just made the process more efficient.


Is it time we rethought the death penalty? Do the costs savings outweigh the benefits of the death penalty? And, will the bill really make it to the November ballot?


Ellen Kreitzberg, Professor of Law, Santa Clara Law School. Part of the organizational committee on the SAFE act

Michael D. Rushford, Founder, President, and CEO of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, a nonprofit, public interest law organization dedicated to improving the administration of criminal justice