A hot topic often discussed in class, the death penalty is back on the ballot with two propositions.
The first initiative, Prop 62, focuses on repealing the death penalty, while a yes vote on Prop 66 looks to change death penalty procedures to speed up the appeals process.
This is not the first time capital punishment has been discussed. In 1972, the California Supreme Court ruled capital punishment was unconstitutional due to cruel and unusual punishment, causing others who may have been on death row prior to the ruling to be commuted to life without parole. Some of these inmates include Charles Manson and Robert Kennedy’s assassin, Sirhan Sirhan.
Later that year, Proposition 17 was passed, reinstating the death penalty in California.
In subsequent years, it has been heavily debated topic.
“I am glad that Californians are revisiting this issue and I do hope that this elections will resolve the ambivalence surrounding the application of the death penalty in this state,” said Political Science instructor Milton Clark.
At Los Medanos College, some professors such as Clark are open to discussing this issue in class.
“I regularly have the discussion in my classes [about the death penalty], particularly during the study of civil liberties,” said Clark. “I never cease to be astonished by the number of young people willing to put someone to death, especially for crimes not as severe as murder.”
As much as students are willing to talk about this topic however, teachers don’t always find it relevant or necessary to discuss in class.
“I’m not surprised that it’s on the ballot. It’s a really controversial issue. I know I have always had students who want to talk about it,” said Honors Director Jennifer Saito. “What I find about the death penalty is most people aren’t willing to change their position. Some people are adamantly in favor of it, others are adamantly against it, and there’s not a lot of budging that can happen.”
Although she expressed that it is an important issue for people to know about, in her class she finds it difficult to create effective dialogue in an academic setting.
“I try to choose issues more where people can start to see the other side … I don’t talk about abortion in my classes for the same reason.”
According to Saito, she said believes the reason why people become so passionate about issues such as capital punishment in this election is partly due to the state our country is in regarding our criminal justice system.
“We’re one of the only countries in the developed world that still does it. Like all philosophy teachers, I can see both sides very strongly,” said Saito.