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Religion: California Death Row Investment – A Moral Dilemma?

+Catholicos Scholarios-Gennadius III is the OSB Vicar General of America and All-Canada Archbishop New York & East Coast of America Ecumenical Canonical Orthodox Church Metropolitan-Archbishop at the The Holy Orthodox Catholic Church San Rafael, California/Washington, DC. Here he tackles the difficult question of spending priorities in a state which maintains the death penalty:

The Marin Independent Journal newspaper, whose headquarters lie in the shadows of the infamous California San Quentin Prison, reports that a large number of California’s disabled population staged demonstrations outside of this institution in protest of new spending on the prison’s death row. These demonstrations occurred in response to the news that the State of California has proposed spending approximately $400M to construct a new San Quentin Death Row while planning to reduce social service spending for the disabled in the area of $700M.

It is unfathomable how the California legislature can justify spending a large portion of the State’s considerably reduced budget in order to modernize the method of extinguishing human life. How is it morally or ethically justifiable to insist that those most in need should be required to sacrifice their moderate quality of life in favor of more efficient institutional executions?

In response approximately 200 disabled Californians gathered outside the walls of San Quentin to protest the State’s moral commitment to death as opposed to investing in the lives of its most vulnerable citizens. According to the Marin Independent Journal, the Marin County legislature has filed suit in an effort to stop this financially immoral project from proceeding. The Marin County Counsel has indicated the County’s intention of requesting a temporary restraining order from the Marin Superior Court.

In the wake of a nationwide financial downturn, along with the drastic stripping of state and county budgets, as well as announcements of reduced Federal government spending, California’s decision to invest in death rather than life is incomprehensible.

Such disregard for the physically challenged, ill, marginalized and suffering is analogous to the story of Lazarus and the Rich man parable as related in the Book of St. Luke 16:19-31, where Lazarus is depicted as lying at the gate leading to the palatial residence of the rich man, whose extensive suffering is only mitigated by wild dogs licking his festering wounds. In the current context, Lazarus is a just metaphor for California’s disabled and marginalized citizens who lie at the gates of San Quentin that will become modern death facility and an expensive ($400M) memorial to the institutionalized disregard for humanity in both life and death.

At the point in the assumed distant future time when judgment will occur for both people and institutions, which of all the participants in this planned suffering will enter Abraham’s Bosom or instead the Hell awaiting those who refused to slack the thirst of Lazarus in his unbearable suffering?

Which of the two above referenced expenditures meet the requirements of the “categorical imperative,” investing $400M in State sponsored killing, or investing $700M in the improvement of vulnerable but valuable human life?

About Scholarios Gennadius

Scholarios Gennadius
+Metropolitan Scholarios-Gennadius III, OSB Protohierarch Œcumenical Canonical Orthodox Church Worldwide Archbishop New York & East Coast of America Metropolitan-Archbishop, The Holy Orthodox Catholic Church San Rafael, California/Washington, DC

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  1. I believe your position against the death penalty and cruel punishment is well taken. But it doesn’t address my question to you. With perhaps a few exceptions, there are 750 dangerous people that cannot be safely released into society. Perhaps the “death” sentence is inhumane in and of itself, but the facility would not be. If you responsibly oppose spending money to safely and securely house these individuals, then you should be able to answer my question. What would you have done with them?

  2. Anonymous ..What’s this about “a civilized nation such as ours” ?
    I have no particular axe to grind about the US, but it’s one of the last epithets I would apply to it !
    Obese, corrupt, endlessly superficial, violent, bankrupt, dumbed-down, but surely not “civilized!”
    There will be many exceptions to this, but they simply prove the rule.

  3. I think you miss the point of this project. This project is not the execution chamber, that has already been constructed. This project is for new cell space and support facilities. When the original death row was constructed at San Quentin it was built to house approxiamtely 75 inmates, with the expectation that inmates would be executed at approximately the same rate as new inmates would be admitted. California executes very few people, none in the past 5 years, and there are now something like 750 inmates on death row. The facility is extremely overcrowded, extremely expensive to operate and security is very difficult to provide. If you oppose the death penalty, and assuming you don’t want to release dangerous convicts into society, then it becomes necessary to provide secure housing for them. Building this facility is not “investing in death” as you state. It is actually a compromise to protect society from individuals that are not executed. If you object to spending this money for new prison space, perhaps you have a better idea of what to do with convicted murderers?

    • Robin Scott

      While I agree with you that life-sentenced inmates should have a space which is large enough for all of them to exist in a humane way, is it not particularly cruel treatment to keep people under a death penalty for an indefinite period of time?

      Would it not be better to life imprison people explicitly, than have them placed into this death row purgatory?

      Certainly, 750 inmates on death row does seem like a system that’s not working as it should.

      Some might argue that placing people into “death row” for an indeterminate period of time is a fate worse than death?

      I do, however, agree that these people – now that they exist – need to be housed in an adequate facility; however, their cases should be processed in a more timely fashion. From a personal stand point, I disagree with the death penalty, so I believe that they should all be removed to a secure facility with the anvil of potential state-sanctioned oblivion taken from above their heads.

    • Dear Terry:

      I think that using money for the express purpose of inhumane treatment is wrong. While I understand that California executes fewer inmates than many other states, state sanctioned execution is barbaric and out of date for a civilized nation such as ours. Further, our nation spends far too many resources imprisoning people than is spent on positive human development and this unequal use of scarce financial resources is a dramatic illustration of this fact.


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