New Study: Ending Death Penalty Could Save States Millions

The Death Penalty Information Center released a new study today (pdf) showing that states could save millions by ending the death penalty. A poll of police chiefs across the country was released with the report, Smart on Crime: Reconsidering the Death Penalty in a Time of Economic Crisis (pdf).

[The poll] found that they ranked the death penalty last among their priorities for crime-fighting, do not believe the death penalty deters murder, and rate it as the least efficient use of limited taxpayer dollars.

From DPIC:

“With many states spending millions to retain the death penalty, while seldom or never carrying out an execution, the death penalty is turning into a very expensive form of life without parole. At a time of budget shortfalls, the death penalty cannot be exempt from reevaluation alongside other wasteful government programs that no longer make sense,” said Richard C. Dieter, Executive Director of the Death Penalty Information Center and the report’s author.


“The death penalty is a colossal waste of money that would be better spent putting more cops on the street. New Jersey threw away $250 million on the death penalty over 25 years with nothing to show for it. The death penalty isn't a deterrent whatsoever. New Jersey's murder rate has dropped since the state got rid of the death penalty. If other states abolished the death penalty, law enforcement wouldn’t miss it and the cost savings could be used on more effective crime-fighting programs,” said Police Chief James Abbott of West Orange, New Jersey. Abbott, a Republican, has served 29 years on the police force and was a member of the state commission that recommended the death penalty be abolished.

From the Executive Summary:

The death penalty in the U.S. is an enormously expensive and wasteful program with no clear benefits. All of the studies on the cost of capital punishment conclude it is much more expensive than a system with life sentences as the maximum penalty. In a time of painful budget cutbacks, states are pouring money into a system that results in a declining number of death sentences and executions that are almost exclusively carried out in just one area of the country. As many states face further deficits, it is an appropriate time to consider whether maintaining the costly death penalty system is being smart on crime.

How much does the death penalty cost? It varies, but the report says:

The high costs to the state per execution reflect the following reality: For a single death penalty trial, the state may pay $1 million more than for a non-death penalty trial.36 But only one in every three capital trials may result in a death sentence,37 so the true cost of that death sentence is $3 million. Further down the road, only one in ten of the death sentences handed down may result in an execution.38 Hence, the cost to the state to reach that one execution is $30 million. Sums like these are causing officials to rethink the wisdom of such expenditures.

Although arriving at the actual cost of the death penalty in a state is complicated, in some states $30 million per execution is a very conservative estimate.

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  • Display: Sort:
    While I agree (5.00 / 3) (#3)
    by Zorba on Tue Oct 20, 2009 at 03:54:53 PM EST
    that the death penalty should be eliminated (my reasons are not economic- I consider it barbaric), I could see conservative death penalty proponents, instead of calling for the repeal of the death penalty to "save money," calling for elimination of most appeals and much quicker executions.  I hope the states don't even consider going this route.

    I think (none / 0) (#5)
    by Watermark on Tue Oct 20, 2009 at 09:32:50 PM EST
    that various rulings have pretty much prohibited conservatives from going very far with plans to "streamline" the process.  The only thing conservatives could do, pretty much, is to elect lots of presidents to appoint lots of ultra-conservatives judges.  

    eliminate the death penalty, (5.00 / 1) (#8)
    by cpinva on Wed Oct 21, 2009 at 01:52:41 AM EST
    and legalize pot. the two biggest sources of wasted budget funds in the area of criminal justice, the savings for both, over a ten year period, would probably be in the billions.

    Ex Tx Gov White wants to ge rid of death penalty (none / 0) (#1)
    by Saul on Tue Oct 20, 2009 at 03:27:55 PM EST
    Finally they rethink their countless executions that Texas governors allowed.  If Texas got rid of the death penalty that would be shocking news and I would welcome it.  But Texas without the death penalty is like running around naked.

    Sounds rather (5.00 / 2) (#2)
    by Inspector Gadget on Tue Oct 20, 2009 at 03:54:47 PM EST
    liberating :)

    Yeah (none / 0) (#6)
    by Watermark on Tue Oct 20, 2009 at 09:33:54 PM EST
    But he's a Democrat, a moderate.  The moderates have absolutely no say in modern Texan politics.

    rest of the story (none / 0) (#4)
    by diogenes on Tue Oct 20, 2009 at 09:01:42 PM EST
    1.  Much of the excess cost is due to twenty years of appeals; you can cancel the death penalty to save money caused by years of appeals but can also save money by limiting the appeals.
    2.  A number of cases involve people pleading guilty to murder with life in prison to avoid a death penalty trial; these will all go to trial now.  That's a cost.
    3.  I can't see how it costs more to have a death row inmate in supermax then it would cost to have a lifer in supermax.  

    It costs a lot more (5.00 / 0) (#7)
    by Watermark on Tue Oct 20, 2009 at 09:35:05 PM EST
    to try a death penalty trial.  The actual cost of imprisonment is an insignificant factor here.

    If we just eliminated laws (none / 0) (#10)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Wed Oct 21, 2009 at 11:48:31 AM EST
    think of how much we'd save!

    Anti-death-penalty groups say (none / 0) (#11)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Wed Oct 21, 2009 at 11:56:15 AM EST
    Anti-death-penalty groups say longer jury selection, extra expert witnesses, jury consultants and an extended penalty phase tend to make death penalty trials more costly than non-death-penalty cases.

    Extra safeguards in place to ensure a fair verdict, including additional investigators and defense attorneys certified to handle death cases, who spend more time researching and litigating the case, also drive up costs.

    So I'm confused.

    Assuming, as the quote suggests, that DP trials are more expensive and more apt to ensure fair verdicts, TL is advocating for less fair verdicts in order to save some money?