By Steven Tavares
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East Bay State Senator Loni Hancock is offering legislation today calling for the replacement of the state death penalty with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

State Sen. Loni Hancock

Hancock is no stranger to the issues surrounding the California prison system and the state’s three decades-old death penalty law. She chairs the Senate Public Safety Committee and the Senate Budget Subcommittee on Corrections, which oversees funding for the state’s hemorrhaging prison system.

Many of those committing violent and horrific crimes are mentally ill and cannot rationalize the death penalty as a deterrent, Hancock said Monday morning on Sacramento’s Capital Public Radio. LISTEN HERE.

Hancock, instead, said the savings derived from ending the death penalty along with endless rounds of appeals sometimes stretching decades, should be shifted to public safety with immediate cost-savings.

“We have to say this is an expensive failure,” she said.

More death row inmates have died in prison from natural causes and suicide since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978 than have been executed, according to Hancock. Current death row inmates make up a small portion of California’s 171,000-person prison system. Just over 700 condemned prisoners are guaranteed rights to numerous rounds of appeals costing the state $184 million-a-year according to a report on the state’s prisons.

Extra security coupled with decisions awaiting the appeals process that often reach 20 years along with a legal infrastructure unable to efficiently handle the glut of cases amounts to a death sentence costing significantly more than life in prison without parole, she argued.

Hancock’s bill (SB 490) will be available Tuesday and is expect to begin the legislative process July 5 in the Assembly Public Safety Committee.