Old death penalty needs to be laid to rest

In Opinion

During the 2016 elections, Californians voted on two separate but intimately connected propositions: Propositions 62 and 66.

Proposition 62, or “The Justice That Works Act,” was meant to repeal the death penalty in California, while Proposition 66 was intended to change the death penalty to be more cost-effective. The results were “No” on 62 and “Yes” on 66.

The task of redesigning the state’s executions to be more cost-effective is going to be difficult because it’s already so convoluted. However, a change is necessary.

The death penalty was introduced in this state in 1978. Since then, more than $4 billion has been spent to put only 13 people to death.

Currently, roughly 750 prisoners are still waiting for their date of execution and since 1977, 70 prisoners have died of natural causes, 24 by suicide and half a dozen from drug overdose and murder, according to a 20 study by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Clearly, it’s about time California reformed this ancient and clearly broken system.

While waiting, inmates can appeal to higher courts and remain in incarceration. This is where costs are incurred.

California has spent over $4 billion on the death penalty system since 1978, which boils down to about $384 million on each execution, according to deathpenalty.com.

One-fourth of the total cost is due to costs of incarceration. The other $3 billion has gone to trials and appeals.

Proposition 66 is designed to cut these costs by removing special housing for death row inmates, disregarding frivolous claims of innocence and speeding up trials, appeals and executions.

The vast majority of those who wanted to repeal the death penalty are attorneys, the very professionals who are largely responsible for the life, death and justice of these prisoners.

Meanwhile, those who contributed funds to keep the death penalty but redesign it were made up of a variety of people, including various police associations and several district attorneys.

There is a fundamental divide in the death penalty. Those who are responsible for executions and those who maintain and execute the prisoners have polarized opinions of what should be done.

Considering this division, it’s going to be nearly impossible to come to a conclusive method accepted for reform.

But no fear, there are more archaic methods of execution that could have added benefits to the executioners, prisoners and taxpayers alike.

A far more reasonable, cost-effective, expedient and downright draconian fix would be to bring back the firing squad.

Currently, only Oklahoma and Utah allow execution by firing squad but only under the circumstances of lethal injection drugs not being available or found unconstitutional.

Since 1976, only three people have been executed by firing squad in the U.S. due to this stipulation.

The firing squad can be highly scrutinized by the sensitive public, but also dignified.

The costs would be kept relatively low, since some guards carry rifles with live ammunition, blindfolds can be optional and reusable and most importantly, this method would provide a unique training experience for the executioners involved.

Tom Aveni, head of the Police Policy Studies Council, cross referenced Los Angeles County officer-involved shootings with several other police organizations around the country, including New York City, Portland, Oregon and Washington D.C.

While reviewing this information, Aveni discovered several important variables in police shooting.

Incidents with one officer shooting resulted in an average of 51 percent of the rounds fired by the officer actually hitting the target. When more than two officers were firing, the average hit ratio was 9 percent.

In Los Angeles County, with a single officer shooting, the average amount of rounds fired was 3.59, but with multiple officers shooting, the average amount of bullets fired per officer was 6.48.

Simply put, officers firing guns in the line of duty are more hazardous to the surrounding environment than it is for the intended target. The accuracy gets dangerously lower while the rounds being fired increase dramatically when three or more officers are involved.

“I’ve been looking at gunfight data now for nearly forty years, and I haven’t seen any significant changes,” Aveni said.

What might change these facts is an experience for the officer to reference back to. The slow, controlled, execution of a prisoner found worthy of execution by the state.

The firing squad will undoubtedly create untold amounts of mental stress on those involved, but if it is part of the job, it is logical to train these professionals on the most unpredictable and dangerous parts of the job.

A byproduct of this method of execution could help to weed out the weak willed officers who managed to convince themselves that the academy was the only training they needed.

Californians voted to keep the death penalty, but also to stop it from bleeding money. What the state needs now is a method that benefits the taxpayers, officers and prisoners.

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