Initiative could replace death penalty with life in prison without parole

A coalition of law enforcement personnel, crime victim advocates and exonerated ex-criminals announced a ballot initiative Friday that would replace the California death penalty with life in prison without parole.

After the death penalty bill proposed by State Senator Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, was withdrawn Thursday because it did not have enough support in the Assembly Committee on Appropriations to move forward,  supporters of the SAFE California Act are trying to put it on the November 2012 popular ballot.

Hancock’s spokesperson Larry Levin said the death penalty bill, which was meant for the Legislature, was inspired by a study published in the Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review in June by Loyola Law School Professor Paula M. Mitchell and U.S. 9th Circuit Judge Arthur L. Alarcon. According to the study, capital punishment has cost California taxpayers over $4 billion since it was reinstated in 1978, a figure that led the authors to call California’s system “the most expensive and least effective death penalty law in the nation.”

Levin attributes the bill’s failure to the short timeline between its inception and when it was scheduled to be put up to vote Thursday.

“We didn’t have enough time to build up the momentum and the community pressure from the districts and the education process to make it happen so fast,” he said.

Considering the financial findings of the June study and that Hancock’s bill was unsuccessful at making it through the Legislature, SAFE California Spokesperson Erin Mellon said the group Taxpayers for Justice decided they needed to take the death penalty issue directly to the voters and formed the SAFE California Campaign.

So far, the initiative has secured the support of 104 law enforcement officials including former Los Angeles County District Attorney Gil Garcetti and former Warden of San Quentin State Prison Jeanne Woodford, according to Mellon.

Mellon said the group will start collecting the necessary signatures required for the initiative to make it onto the ballot in October. She estimated they will need between 700,000 and 800,000.

According to a press release from the campaign, the act would reserve $30 million of the money the elimination of the death penalty would save and put it toward solving murder and rape cases each year for three years.

“That money should be going toward law enforcement and education and actually get our streets safer and get criminals off the street,” she said.

Levy said that while the Hancock administration will work with the initiative, Hancock’s bill can be brought up again in January if “there is a reason to” because it was withdrawn before it was voted on.