Execution hurry-up

Another sign of the dysfunctionality of capital punishment

There’s been some controversy this week surrounding the hurry-up with which the state scheduled Albert Greenwood Brown Jr. for execution on Tuesday (Sept. 28). (He’s since been given a reprieve.)

The event has thrust capital punishment into the spotlight for the first time since 2006, when U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel ruled that the state’s lethal-injection system was flawed because it risked violating the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Three legal challenges against the system, including Fogel’s, remain unresolved, but that didn’t stop the state from quickly moving forward on Brown’s execution as soon as its new death chamber was finished. According to news reports, the speed-up resulted from the fact that one of the three chemicals used in the execution expires on Sept. 30, and more won’t be available until next year.

In any event, isn’t it comforting to know that, after 90-some days without a state budget and seeing child-care centers and medical clinics closing as funding dries up, we have a spanking-new death chamber at San Quentin? And to think it cost only $853,000.

Of course, that’s nothing next to what it’s going to cost to build a new deat-row facility: $400 million. Or the expense of housing up to 1,400 inmates there for decades. Not to mention their legal costs as they make all the appeals to which they’re entitled.

The death penalty system costs the state $137 million each year and needs another $95 million annually just to become minimally functional, Chief Justice Ronald M. George has stated. Like many others, he thinks it’s time to reconsider capital punishment. By converting the sentences of the 700 death-row inmates to permanent imprisonment, the state could save $1 billion in five years, unclog the court system, and exact swift and certain justice at a fraction of the cost.