The fate of California’s death penalty is up for a vote. Two competing yes/no propositions are on the November 8th ballot. Should the state end the practice of killing condemned convicts, and should the botched ways of ending these lives finally be stopped?
Since 1976, as reported by CNN, 87 percent of the 1,391 executions over the last forty years in the United States have been by lethal injection, and 11 percent have been by electrocution. (The CNN report notes the remaining capital punishment deaths were enacted by gas chamber (1 percent), hanging (0.5 percent), and firing squad (0.5 percent).) Reports of problems with lethal injection executions have become increasingly problematic; it’s difficult to concoct the right combination of deadly drugs to kill people within constitutional time constraints. Likewise, the use of the electric chair to kill the condemned has because less prevalent; worldwide only six U.S. states (Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia) use the chair. Scenarios such as Ethel Rosenberg’s execution in 1953, as described by Lori Clune in Executing the Rosenbergs: Death and Diplomacy in a Cold World War, have put the electric chair in ill repute: “After the electricity surged through her body—the same voltage and duration used to kill her husband—[the] prison doctors . . . [were] dumbfounded. Her heart was still beating. Prison officials tightened the leather straps and applied additional electricity, conjuring ‘a ghastly plume of smoke’ that sprang from her masked head.”
California voters can exercise their death penalty prison reform power this Election Day. Of the seventeen propositions (or props) on the November ballot, three directly involve public policy choices concerning important prison reform matters. The propositions ignite a visceral appeal and range from doing away with the death penalty to shortening sentences of felons convicted of nonviolent crimes.
A close look at each prop is necessary to understand the scope of the measures. Propositions are written to advance the agenda of their proponents and thus need careful study and thought—take the time to read and consider their full ramifications.
Sometimes proposition initiatives conflict in intended goals. On point: Propositions 62 and 66 involve the state’s death penalty, but they’re diametrically opposed in goals. Prop 62 takes away the death penalty; Prop 66 keeps it.
The ramifications of Prop 62 are huge. If it passes, the death penalty will be gone and replaced with life without possibility of parole (LWOP). Alternatively, the passage of Prop 66 would not only maintain the death penalty but also set the stage to accelerate the drawn-out appellate process, resulting in the expedited enactment of the death penalty. How polarizing could two propositions be?
Think about how you feel about issues before you vote:
- Is the death penalty cruel and unusual punishment (a violation of the Eighteenth Amendment)?
- What secular and nonsecular positions would support yes or no votes?
- Should inmates condemned to death have the opportunity to be freed?
- Does LWOP put prison officials and inmates at greater risk?
- What about DNA exoneration in the United States? According to the Innocence Project, since 1989, 344 people have been exonerated from the death penalty by DNA evidence.
The details surrounding these competitive propositions are extensive and beyond the full analytical extent of this blog. The issues go to the core of the death penalty in California, tapping into psychological and emotional cues. Voters need to study the provisions before they can make intelligent decisions.
Here’s how you can learn more:
Note: If Props 62 and 66 are both passed by the voters, the prop with the most yes votes will supersede the other and become law.
The third prison reform measure is Proposition 57, Parole for Non-Violent Criminals and Juvenile Court Trial Requirements.
Voting yes supports increasing parole and good behavior opportunities for felons convicted of nonviolent crimes. A yes vote also empowers trial judges, not prosecutors, to decide whether to try certain juveniles as adults in court. Like Props 62 and 66, Prop 57 raises important social policy issues that require information and thought before Californians cast their votes.
Voting no is a stand against increasing parole and good behavior opportunities for felons convicted of nonviolent crimes and favors keeping the current system of having prosecutors decide whether to try certain juveniles as adults in court.
Prison reform is a serious matter that requires citizens’ careful consideration. California voters have the opportunity to make their opinions known through their votes. While national political elections will take the center stage this November, the 162,000 marginalized inmates in California’s thirty-three prisons deserve your considered votes on Propositions 62, 67, and 57.
Other resources can help you decide how to vote on the props. See what groups are supporting or opposing particular measures:
Please comment on your viewpoint on Props 62, 67, and 57, and let’s start an online conversation.
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