SACRAMENTO, Calif. (BP) — California will vote Nov. 6 whether to repeal its death penalty and replace the maximum punishment for murder with life in prison without parole.
Those calling for its repeal in California argue its use is flawed and too expensive, and that its repeal will save the financially strapped state $1 billion within five years.
Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary President Jeff Iorg said California’s practice of capital punishment is indeed flawed, but Proposition 34 — as the initiative is called — isn’t the solution.
“The way death penalty cases are handled in California needs reform, but Proposition 34 is the wrong set of solutions,” Iorg said. “We need reform of the process, not abolition of the death penalty as a sentencing option.” Golden Gate’s Northern California campus operates a prison ministry at San Quentin State Prison, where California houses its death row inmates.
Prop 34 addresses a complex issue, says Eugene Curry, pastor of First Baptist Church of Granada Hills. He said authors and backers of the proposition were wise to emphasize practical considerations of the death penalty, rather than the “abstract moral status of execution.”
“Given the complexity of the issue, I’ve yet to decide how I’ll vote on the proposition and I have no intention to endorse one side of the debate or the other from the pulpit,” Curry said.
“On the basis of a number of factors, including biblical passages like Romans 13:3-4, I think that capital punishment is, at least in theory, an acceptable option for the punishment of very serious crimes,” Curry said. “However, when we move from abstract theory to actual practice, the matter is complicated by other considerations including the reliability of court convictions, the enormous costs involved in the context of our current legal system, and so on.”
California has not executed anyone since 2006, when a federal judge halted executions in the state pending various changes in the administration of the penalty.
Prop. 34 is on the ballot as an initiated state statute, having received at least the required 504,760 qualified signatures.
Prop. 34 would apply retroactively to those currently on death row, transferring their sentences to life in prison. It would require those found guilty of murder to work while in prison, applying their wages to victim restitution, and would use state funds to create a $100 million fund to help law enforcement agencies solve more homicide and rape cases.
Supporters of Prop. 34 say California has spent $4 billion on capital punishment since 1978, executing only 13 people at a cost of $308 million per execution. During the same period, 78 people on death row have died from natural and other causes, according to proposition supporters. They also argue that across the U.S., 140 innocent people on death row have been exonerated.
Opponents of Prop. 34 say the death penalty could be repaired by instituting single-drug executions, reducing the cost of appeals and discontinuing the costly practice of housing death row inmates in single cells at San Quentin. They say less than 2 percent of all convicted murderers in the state are sentenced to death.
As expressed in a 2000 resolution, the Southern Baptist Convention supports “the fair and equitable use of capital punishment by civil magistrates as a legitimate form of punishment for those guilty of murder or treasonous acts that result in death” and urges that “capital punishment be administered only when the pursuit of truth and justice result in clear and overwhelming evidence of guilt.”
Expressing a “deep reverence for human life,” a “profound respect for the rights of individuals” and “respect for the law,” SBC messengers in 2000 urged that “capital punishment be applied as justly and as fairly as possible without undue delay, without reference to the race, class, or status of the guilty.”
Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ staff writer. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).