There are now 666 inmates on death row, according to the Department of Corrections, and executions have been halted now for 16 months by a federal judge who ordered prison officials to revise their lethal injection procedures to ensure inmates don't suffer unnecessarily....the average stay on death row is 17.5 years before execution.
California's first modern era execution was in 1992, about 14 years after the death penalty was reinstated there. It has averaged less than one execution per year since then.
California's situation isn't all that unusual. Wikipedia has detailed summaries of the current state of affairs. Many death penalty jurisdictions other than California, such as the ordinary court system of the United States federal government, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Oregon, Tennessee and Idaho have death row populations ten times as large or more than the number of executions carried out in the jurisdiction since the death penatly was reinstated. New Jersey has eleven people on death row, Kansas has nine, the U.S. Military has nine, and South Dakota has four, but neither has carried out any executions since the death penalty was reinstated. New Hampshire has a death penalty on the books, but has no one on death row and has never had an execution.
In other words, while 38 states may have death penalties on the books, it is imposed sparingly. Only about 2.5% of people convicted of murder nationwide are sentenced to death, and the highest percentage appears to be in Nevada where 6% of those convicted of murder are sentenced to death.
The percentage of cases where the death penalty is carried out is a huge looming issue. There are about 3,350 people on death row in the United States right now. The U.S. executed 53 people in 2006. At that rate, if no more death sentences are imposed, death row will be empty in 2070.
Incidentially, California's prevention of prison suicides is improving. From the same article:
In October, the California prison system instituted a series of reforms to cut the high rate of inmate suicides, which reached a record 43 last year. A federal judge is overseeing the state's treatment of mentally ill and suicidal inmates as a result of a class-action lawsuit by prisoners alleging inadequate care.