top of page

California's Prop 34: The Choice of Money vs. Morals


It seems a bit off to consider where the United States stands in comparison to most other countries in civil and human rights. The U.S. has recognized the right of women to vote, the right of all citizens to speak freely, and the right to a just trial under the law and taken many other significant leaps forward that other countries have imitated in their policies. What appalls the mind is the inherent disregard for the lives of those who commit crimes, however. In this respect, the United States government stands alongside multiple countries that are continually frowned upon for their civil and human rights violations. The death penalty is still applied in North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, the People's Republic of China, and the United States, to name a few. Why are we not alongside the other 139 countries (according to Amnesty International) that have outlawed the death penalty? Is it due to our violent culture or are there greater powers at work here?


Photo by Patrick Feller; some rights reserved.

California had the chance this last November to join the 17 states (plus the District of Columbia) that have abolished the death penalty. Proposition 34 was designed to repeal the death penalty as the maximum punishment for persons found guilty of murder. Instead, the maximum punishment would be to imprison murderers for life, without possible parole. Proposition 34 would also direct $100 million to law enforcement agencies for investigations of homicide and rape cases. The proposition, it was estimated, would save about $130 million each year after the first few years. Proposition 34 thus had a price tag of $100 million initially for grants to law enforcement, but the proposition's authors expected it to be paid for over four years -- with hopes that the savings from ending the death penalty would be incentives for people to support the proposition. The reason the proposition would save money is because the costs of court appeals, trials, and all the expenses that go along with the associated red tape would be unnecessary without a death penalty. While the proposition seemed like an advance in the eyes of some social justice advocates, others saw this bill as a free ticket for murderers and rapists.

While it is not overt, the motive behind the proposition does not seem necessarily to be concern for the rights of the convicts on death row. The drive behind the proposition can be taken solely as an economic and fiscal policy choice for the state. Defending the rights of humans on death row is difficult, as it seems that the United States is not run by concern for morals but rather for the pocketbooks of CEOs and the like.

Is there a fault in founding a policy solely on economic needs? Would there be a change in policy as soon as the price for the death penalty dropped and it was actually more expensive to keep a convict in prison for life?

Although unlikely, the possibility of such a change seems terribly wrong. I am not sure I could stand for a morality based on profits and budget balancing. The value of a woman or man's life arguably cannot be measured in money. How then do these policymakers see fit to form a policy solely around money? It is possible that this proposition could not succeed upon moral grounds in a country so bent on protection from murderers and rapists. The economic argument seems much more convincing to an ordinary person. Each and every one of us can understand the value of saving money, but the moral argument does not connect with all.


Photo by codepinkphoenix; some rights reserved.

While advocates argued that the bill would save money, opponents argued that horrific crimes deserved punishment and that rather than abolishing the penalty, California's government should reform the judicial process in order to make it cheaper to execute individuals. In regards to these different arguments for and against the bill, there seems to be no voice of true morality. It is as if the United States government decides upon legislation with only wealth in mind. Could this be where our country is destined to fail? Contrary to how we would hope our legislation is formed, it must inevitably be recognized that many of our laws are passed or repealed on fiscal grounds.

Being a California resident and a social justice advocate, I had hopes for Proposition 34, but when I heard about the argument for repeal, my dreams of a state without a chance of death under the government were dashed.


Disclaimer: The views presented in the Rehumanize Blog do not necessarily represent the views of all members, contributors, or donors. We exist to present a forum for discussion within the Consistent Life Ethic, to promote discourse and present an opportunity for peer review and dialogue.

bottom of page