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 Assembly, 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.)

In 1978, when California voters first reinstated the death penalty, no one knew how much it would cost. No one knew how long executions would take, how many attorneys would be required to prosecute and defend the appeals, how large a facility would be needed to house death row inmates – in short, no one knew what a big, expensive mess it would be.

Thirty-three years later, we know. We now know that the death penalty is a hollow promise to victims’ family members. These families wait 25 years– on average– for resolution to a death sentence. 99% of those sentenced to die are never executed and die from old age or sickness instead.

And we know from empirical research that the death penalty costs vastly more than the alternative of life without parole – $184 million every year. We also know from common sense that public safety improves when money is used for real solutions, like law enforcement officers on the street or violence prevention and education in schools.