SAFE California Campaign to Replace Death Penalty Kicks Off in San Diego

October 26, 2011

SAN DIEGO – A broad coalition headed by law enforcement, exonerated persons and community groups announced the launch of signature gathering for the SAFE California Act (the Savings, Accountability and Full Enforcement for California Act), a ballot initiative for the November 2012 election that will replace the death penalty with life in prison without possibility of parole, with work and restitution for victims’ families paid into a state victim compensation fund. The SAFE California Act also sets aside $100 million in budget savings for local law enforcement to solve open rape and murder cases.

Recent polls conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) and Field Poll show California voters’ strong preference for life without the possibility of parole over the death penalty. In the Field Poll released on September 29, 48% of California voters opted for a sentence of life without the possibility of parole while only 40% chose the death penalty. The PPIC poll showed 54% of Californians prefer life without possibility of parole, with more than 67% of Latinos choosing this punishment over the death penalty.

“We will save $1 billion over the next five years by replacing the death penalty with life without parole. That’s millions of dollars that can be put to good use, like keeping our teachers, police and firefighters in their jobs,” said Catherine Thiemann, San Diego SAFE Campaign co-chair. “The truth is that our death penalty is costly, dysfunctional and ineffective. It is shocking that 46% of murders and 56% of reported rapes go unsolved in California while we waste millions on the death penalty. Something is wrong with that equation.”

A study by Federal Judge Arthur Alarcon and law professor Paula Mitchell released in June found that the state of California has spent 4 billion taxpayer dollars on the death penalty since 1978 and carried out thirteen executions in that time, a cost of $308 million per execution.

“The question we must ask is this: Is California safer because of the death penalty? Thirty-three years and the answer is an unequivocal ‘no’ and yet we keep spending precious state funds,” said Judge James Stiven, Retired, U.S. District Court. “I support the SAFE California Act because it ends decades of wasteful spending.”

“As someone who was wrongfully convicted in California, I know that our criminal justice cannot be trusted,” said Herman Atkins, an exoneree who was freed after spending 12 years in prison for crime he did not commit. “Innocent people just like me have been executed in this country. The risk is just too high. We cannot afford to execute another innocent life, and the only way to prevent that injustice is to replace the death penalty with life without possibility of parole.”

“California has a new majority of people of color,” said Gerald Brown, executive director of the United African American Ministerial Council. “Together we have the strength and the power to replace the death penalty with an effective alternative that will better protect all families.”

The SAFE Campaign needs over 500,000 signatures to qualify for the November 2012 ballot. This weekend hundreds of paid and unpaid signature gathers will begin asking Californians to support SAFE CA.

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Death Penalty Fact Sheet

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Law Enforcement Statement