Coalition Including Victims' Families and Law Enforcement Officials Launches Death Penalty Repeal Initiative

A broad range of citizens in California launched a signature campaign on October 25 to replace the death penalty with life in prison and no parole through a ballot initiative in November 2012. The signature drive was announced at the city hall in San Francisco and was attended by murder victims’ families and law enforcement officials, such as San Francisco Sheriff Michael Hennessey (pictured), who support the measure. Hennessey cited a study released last June showing that California has sent $4 billion on the death penalty since it was restored in 1977. The ballot initiative is called the Savings, Accountability and Full Enforcement (SAFE) for California Act, and the campaign must gather 504,000 voter signatures in order to qualify for the election. Natasha Minsker, statewide manager for the campaign, said, “Californians are ready for the SAFE California Act because now they realize we have wasted literally billions of dollars on a failed death penalty system. It’s time to take our resources and put them instead toward public safety.” The initiative directs funds saved to go to victims’ families and to improve law enforcement. California has not had an execution since 2006. A recent Field Poll released last month showed that more voters (48%) would prefer the punishment of life without parole for someone convicted of first-degree murder than the death penalty (40%).

(K. Fagan, “Death penalty foes launch initiative drive,” San Francisco Chronicle, October 26, 2011). See Costs and Recent Legislative Activity.

Death Penalty Repeal. Initiative Statute.

Official Summary:

Repeals death penalty as maximum punishment for persons found guilty of murder and replaces it with life imprisonment without possibility of parole. Applies retroactively to persons already sentenced to death. Requires persons found guilty of murder to work while in prison, with their wages to be applied to any victim restitution fines or orders against them. Creates $100 million fund to be distributed to law enforcement agencies to help solve more homicide and rape cases. Summary of estimate by Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance of fiscal impact on state and local government: Net savings to the state and counties that could amount to the high tens of millions of dollars annually on a statewide basis due to the elimination of the death penalty. One-time state costs totaling $100 million from 2012-13 through 2015-16 to provide funding to local law enforcement agencies. (California Secretary of State—Cleared for Circulation—No.11-0035)