The L.A. Times swallows whole the assertion that abolishing the death penalty “could” save the state “up to $1 billion over the next five years.” I don’t buy it.
I hope to analyze this article much more closely when I have more time. For now, let me note that in 2005, the paper claimed that “maintaining the California death penalty system costs taxpayers more than $114 million a year beyond the cost of simply keeping the convicts locked up for life.” In a detailed post, I showed how this claim was indisputably exaggerated. As I noted at the time:
the article relies upon the transparently absurd assumption that defendants sentenced to LWOP [life without the possibility of parole] would never appeal their convictions, thus allowing the state to save the full cost of appealing their convictions. The truth is exactly the opposite: virtually all defendants sentenced to LWOP appeal their convictions at state expense.
In addition, the 2005 article assigned no savings to the plea bargains that prosecutors sometimes obtain by taking the death penalty off the table. With a plea, there is no trial and no appeal. That saves money.
The 2005 article was one of the most shameless pieces of garbage I have ever read in this newspaper. That has not prevented its conclusions from being repeated uncritically by the ACLU (.pdf).
Even the L.A. Times‘s exaggerated and inaccurate figure of $114 million a year yields only $570 million in alleged savings over five years. Where does the other $430 million come from?
The answers appear to lie somewhere inside this document (.pdf), which appears on its face to be a one-sided anti-death penalty (and anti-law enforcement) screed masquerading as an impartial study. The participation of former Los Angeles D.A. John Van de Kamp does not change this impression — look at page 112 to see the one-sided list of materials reviewed for this section of the report. The entire report seems to be an anti-law enforcement crusader’s wet dream, reduced to charts and figures. When I get time I’ll put a microscope to its claims, but for now, let’s just say I’m highly skeptical.
Today’s article is the newspaper’s attempt to seize upon the budget crisis to pursue the editors’ ideologically driven opposition to the death penalty. When ideology comes into play, the facts be damned.
I hope to return to this soon.