California Purgatory; Death Row on Limbo

California Purgatory; Death Row on Limbo

The death penalty is one of the most controversial aspects of American law. Only 28 states in the US have a death penalty, and California is one of them. However, we have a moratorium placed on our penalty, making executions illegal. This has caused over 650 people on death row to wait for their execution in uncertainty. Since 1978, there have only been 13 executions. This means that jails are filling up, and prisoners are anxiously awaiting their death. 

However, although one cannot be executed, one can still be sentenced to death, meaning that the list of people on death row is ever-growing. There were five people sentenced to the death penalty in 2023 alone. That means that if the California state government had to kill one person per week, it would last over 14 years. In 2023, California was in second place for most people sentenced to death, behind Florida with seven and Texas with three. The last execution performed in the Golden State was in 2006. 

In 2012 and 2016, California voted on the death penalty, with the majority of Californians voting in support. Despite the support, Governor Gavin Newsom put the moratorium on executions into place. The goal of the 2016 vote was to speed up the execution process; recently, in 2024, Gov. Newsom plans to close the execution chamber in San Quentin north of San Francisco – featured in the picture below – for sound during the summer. Additionally, he plans to transfer all men to another facility, indicating his opposition to the death penalty. 

The vote in 2016 also approved a plan for all death row inmates to give over 70% of their income to the victims’ families. This may be why Californians support executions: to provide compensation for the victims’ families. There is research in criminology that shows the lack of effectiveness of the death penalty in terms of cold-blooded murder and other extremely violent crimes. The person responsible for the abolition of the death penalty in France, Robert Badinter, states, “Those who believe in the deterrent value of the death penalty ignore the human truth. Criminal passion is no more restrained by the fear of death than other more noble passions.” 

The Supreme Court stated that keeping people in uncertainty as to when they are supposed to be executed is unconstitutional. They state that it violates the 8th Amendment for cruel and unusual punishment. This resulted in an indictment of the California death penalty. The Supreme Court is no longer disregarding this issue.

The death penalty dilemma is solely moral and, therefore, causes much opposition between both the government and the people. It is neither right nor wrong, but California’s policy is cruel. Death row is now a purgatory, and the penalty resembles a life sentence. Prison is just a holding tank that will never be emptied for these people. Until something is done, convicts will continue to be subjected to waiting for their last days in uncertainty.

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