Justice That Works: Taxpayer coalition launches effort to replace California death penalty

Signature-gathering begins for initiative to end costly, dysfunctional, ineffective system

SACRAMENTO – Dec. 14, 2015 - Taxpayers for Sentencing Reform, a coalition that includes conservatives, liberals, law enforcement, religious leaders, and victims’ families, announced today that it is collecting signatures for a November 2016 ballot initiative to end the state’s dysfunctional and costly death penalty system.

The Justice That Works Act of 2016 would ensure that perpetrators of heinous crimes can be sentenced to life-in-prison-without-the-possibility-of-parole, with a provision that requires them to work in prison and forward most of the wages to the families of victims. Last month, California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office and the Office of the Attorney General declared that the initiative would save the state $150 million a year by replacing the death penalty with life without the possibility of parole.

“California is ready to replace the death penalty,’’ said Mike Farrell, actor and official proponent of the Justice That Works Act of 2016. “Once Californians discover that the death penalty achieves nothing while wasting billions of dollars, they realize that life in prison is a better choice. It's time to quit this charade; it's time to replace the death penalty with justice that works.’’ 

Since 1978, California has spent at least $5 billion in sentencing more than 900 people to death. Just 13 of those 900 have been killed by the state. No one has been put to death since January 2006. In fact, execution is only the third cause of death on death row, led by natural causes and suicide.

Seven states have abolished the death penalty in the past eight years. A 2012 ballot measure to abolish California’s death penalty won 48 percent of the popular vote; since then, public support for capital punishment has declined by double digits, according to a recent statewide Field Poll.

Conservative lawmaker Ron Briggs, who was part of the campaign in favor of the Death Penalty Act of 1978, said he now supports replacing capital punishment with a sentence of life without parole that requires convicts to work in prison and pay restitution to their victims’ families. 

“When we brought the death penalty back to California, we naturally, but mistakenly, assumed it would be cheaper than life in prison,’’ said Briggs. “But it’s proven to be just another dysfunctional big government program that wastes billions of dollars without achieving its goals. That’s why conservatives like me are increasingly rejecting the failed death penalty system. The Justice that Works Act not only protects the public by locking up killers for the rest of their natural lives, it also provides real help to crime victims by making prisoners work and pay most of their wages to their victims’ families. ’’

Former California Attorney General John Van de Kamp echoed Briggs’ comments. “In chairing the Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice [2003-08] we made many virtually unanimous proposals to speed up the death penalty,’’ Van de Kamp said. “There were costs involved. Since that time no credible efforts have been made to fix the system and none are on the horizon. As a result we waste billions of dollars on a broken death penalty that undermines our entire justice system.”

Signature gathering, headed by Progressive Campaigns Inc., begins immediately. The coalition must collect 365,880 signatures by May to qualify for the November ballot.

Taxpayers for Sentencing Reform (TSR) has put together an experienced campaign group that includes pollster Ben Tulchin and ballot initiative veteran Bill Zimmerman.

The initiative already has financial backing. Reed Hastings, Chairman and CEO of Netflix, and Nick McKeown, a Stanford computer sciences professor and entrepreneur, have committed $1 million each to help launch the campaign.

Donations are needed and can be made at www.justicethatworks.org


Mary Kate DeLucco



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