Clark, James

James Clark is the Death Penalty Field Organizer for the ACLU of Southern California.

Let The Voters Decide: Death Penalty or Life in Prison Without The Possibility of Parole

By Jeanne Woodford
Death Penalty Focus

This November, California voters will make history as they decide -- for the first time ever -- between the death penalty and life in prison without the possibility of parole as the maximum punishment for murder.

There’s only one problem: prosecutors throughout the state are still seeking the death penalty. In fact, the AP just reported that five new people have been sent to death row this year.

Death. And Law & Order.

By James Clark
ACLU of Southern California

From its synth-jazz theme song to its cheesy dialogue to the sage counsel of S. Epatha Merkerson, I love Law and Order. But the best part of Law and Order is the satisfying finality that every episode brings. No matter the verdict, Jack McCoy and the gang always get a cathartic sense of closure after they solve a case.

Unfortunately, real trials aren’t so satisfying — especially when the death penalty is on the table.

SB 490: Let the Voters Make an Informed Decision

By James Clark

No one is surprised to learn that California’s death penalty is a broken and dysfunctional system. After all, you don’t have to go far in California to find any government bureaucracy that’s broken or dysfunctional – it’s finding a functional government program that might take a while. The question is: How do we fix it? How do we punish the worst criminals in a way that maximizes public safety without bankrupting the budget?

A new bill in the California State Senate, SB 490, has a shockingly simple solution: give voters the facts and let the voters decide. (The shock is that it’s taken 30 years to figure that out.)

The Myth of California’s Death Penalty

By James Clark

I have this thing about myths. I like to know the difference between Reality and, well, Not-Reality. I spend a lot of time on, I avoid Fox News, my grandfather was even one of those guys who went on an expedition looking for Noah’s Ark (seriously). So I’m pleased to say that the myth of California’s death penalty is widely being exposed, as more and more people realize that a functional and efficient death penalty system belongs firmly in the Not-Reality Column. Death sentences in California are at an all-time low. The Assembly is now considering a bill that would allow voters to replace the death penalty – meaning that the myth is being exposed from prosecutors’ offices to jury deliberation rooms and all the way to the statehouse.

$4 Billion Since 1978 – Time to Cut California’s Death Penalty

By James Clark

New data in a study to be released next week on California’s death penalty has revealed that the price tag for death is even higher than we thought: $4 billion since 1978. Put another way, we spend $184 million more per year for death penalty inmates than we do on those sentenced to life without the chance of parole. All told, California is on track to spend $1 billion on the death penalty over the next five years.

Illinois Proves (Again) That Ending the Death Penalty Saves Money

By James Clark

Thanks to Illinois, we now have more proof: ending the death penalty saves money - a lot of money - and quickly.

So what is California waiting for?

It’s less than a month since Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed the death penalty repeal bill, replacing the death penalty with life without the possibility of parole and diverting the cost savings to victims’ services. Just two weeks later savings had already reached $4.7 million!

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

California Ignores Obvious Budget Solution: Cut the Death Penalty

By James Clark
ACLU of Southern California

California's new governor Jerry Brown confronted the state's dire budget crisis this week when he released his budget proposal. True to his word, the proposal contains hard cuts to social services across the board, ensuring that California's most vulnerable will have an even tougher time staying healthy and making ends meet.

He was slightly less true to his word, though, when it came to his oft-repeated slogan that "everything is on the table." At least one overfunded, broken government program was allowed to keep its bloated budget without a single cut: the state's billion-dollar death penalty.

LA County: America's Capital Punishment Capital

By James Clark

In striking down America’s death penalty in 1972, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously compared capital punishment to being struck by lightning, arguing that death sentences were given to “a capriciously selected random handful.” For Californians, though, a better metaphor might be an earthquake.

The danger of earthquake, after all, is based on one's proximity to the fault line; death sentences likewise are determined by something as capricious and random as location. And the San Andreas, it turns out, is a fault line for more than just earthquakes: it’s also home to America’s surprising new death penalty capital, Los Angeles County.

California's $4 Million Rollercoaster Ride

By James Clark

California’s death penalty has always been a bit of a head-scratcher, but the news over the last two weeks may have the record for furrowed brows and rolled eyes. The legal drama that has unfolded as the state tries to execute Albert Brown has shocked legal experts, but just confused everyone else.

There’s a reason for that. Five years ago, when executions were put on hold, it was because of myriad problems with the process of putting people to death. Execution teams were poorly trained, didn’t understand the deadly substances they were handling, and were working in dark, cramped conditions. That’s a recipe for botched executions, which has happened too often in California. When Judge Jeremy Fogel, a federal judge, heard that evidence, he told the state they had to fix the procedure.

Budgeting Life and Death

By James Clark

We have no budget, no money for child care centers and college students, and no hope that these problems will be solved anytime soon. But take heart California, what we do have is a state-of-the-art death chamber. And soon we will have the best and brightest death row housing facility. Can anyone in Sacramento say “priorities”?

On September 22, “Day 83 Without a Budget,” the Governor revealed a brand new execution chamber. This was his latest leap into the budgetary black hole that is the death penalty.