The High Cost of the Death Penalty

The New York Times has an editorial today on the economic toll of the death penalty. Some stats it obtained from the Death Penalty Information Center:

According to the organization, keeping inmates on death row in Florida costs taxpayers $51 million a year more than holding them for life without parole. North Carolina has put 43 people to death since 1976 at $2.16 million per execution. The eventual cost to taxpayers in Maryland for pursuing capital cases between 1978 and 1999 is estimated to be $186 million for five executions.

Perhaps the most extreme example is California, whose death row costs taxpayers $114 million a year beyond the cost of imprisoning convicts for life.

As to how the money could be better used: [More...]

Money spent on death rows could be spent on police officers, courts, public defenders, legal service agencies and prison cells.

Instead of more jail cells, how about spending the money on mental health and drug treatment and vocational and life-skills training for inmates, which are likely to reduce recidivism, save us money in the long run and make society a safer place?

Other ways to save money: Impose fewer life sentences and charge fewer juveniles as adults.

The money saved by abolishing the death penalty could also be used for non-crime purposes - like providing health care and better education. In times like these when there isn't enough money to go around, wasting precious dollars and scant criminal justice resources on the death penalty, a punishment that is discriminatorily applied, fraught with potential for killing an innocent person and does not serve to deter others, makes no sense.

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    Yes, indeed (none / 0) (#1)
    by Mikeb302000 on Mon Sep 28, 2009 at 06:23:29 AM EST
    Abolition of the death penalty is right and good and I think a growing movement.  Thanks for linking to that NYT article.

    "keeping" on death row (none / 0) (#2)
    by diogenes on Mon Sep 28, 2009 at 07:38:44 AM EST
    Couldn't lots of criminal defense attorneys spend their time much more productively defending people who are possibly innocent rather than prolonging death row stays for people who are virtually all guilty because a couple might not be and because they oppose the death penalty personally notwithstanding the viewpoint of the majority?

    Misunderstanding (5.00 / 0) (#9)
    by gyrfalcon on Mon Sep 28, 2009 at 09:29:50 AM EST
    You totally misunderstand the role of defense attorneys.  It's not to defend the innocent, it's to keep the government (ie, law enforcement and prosecution) honest.

    What? (none / 0) (#6)
    by Inspector Gadget on Mon Sep 28, 2009 at 08:42:43 AM EST
    people who are virtually all guilty because a couple might not be

    does that mean?

    I am opposed to the death penalty for all, but feel every effort to get those wrongly convicted out of there is well worth it, even if it's only one person.

    That said, I also feel those who are determined to be wrongly convicted need their trials reviewed thoroughly to see what went wrong. Any misconduct found needs to be dealt with.


    I was surprised at the difference (none / 0) (#3)
    by jeffinalabama on Mon Sep 28, 2009 at 08:13:46 AM EST
    between life w/o parole and death penalty cases.  

    Keep in mind (none / 0) (#11)
    by Abdul Abulbul Amir on Mon Sep 28, 2009 at 10:31:57 AM EST

    Keep in mind that the lower appeals cost for LWOP is due to in part to those that plead guilty and forfiet appeal to avoid the death penalty.  Those cost savings should chalked up to the existance of the death penalty.  

    But with no DP (none / 0) (#14)
    by Abdul Abulbul Amir on Mon Sep 28, 2009 at 12:03:48 PM EST

    But with no DP all the LWOP sentences would be by trial and all appealed as DP cases are now.  The net net would be more trials, and more appeals.  Plus you have the new problem of what to do with persons serving LWOP that commit more murders.

    I think there has been cases (none / 0) (#17)
    by nyjets on Mon Sep 28, 2009 at 04:17:55 PM EST
    I think there have been cases where people serving
    life without parole have committed murder while in prison. It does not happen very often but I believe that it has happen.
    Honestly, I am not a supporter of the death penalty. I prefer life without the possibility of parole (IOW they die in prison.) But that being said, on the few occasions where it does happen, it is a legit question to ask: "What do you do with a murder serving LWOP who commits murder again?"

    Not a snowballs chance in Hell (none / 0) (#20)
    by Abdul Abulbul Amir on Mon Sep 28, 2009 at 09:44:20 PM EST

    That is both cruel and unusual.


    No proof? (none / 0) (#19)
    by Abdul Abulbul Amir on Mon Sep 28, 2009 at 09:43:17 PM EST

    No, but it certainly makes sense.  LWOP is a death sentence anwyay.  Just like the DP you go into the slammer alive and come out dead.

    OTOH, you offer no proof that all the appeals that go with the max sentence now (DP) will suddenly go away when the new max sentence is LWOP.


    not me. (none / 0) (#4)
    by cpinva on Mon Sep 28, 2009 at 08:21:42 AM EST
    I was surprised at the difference
    between life w/o parole and death penalty cases.  

    that's been a known fact for many, many years now.

    oh jeralyn, ya big silly! that is not the way to encourage legislators, and their constituents, to eliminate the death penalty.

    what you say is: "hey, with that kind of money, think of how many more people we can put in jail!"

    i guarantee you (especially in the south), you'll draw them in like flies to honey.

    Oh, don't get me wrong-- (none / 0) (#5)
    by jeffinalabama on Mon Sep 28, 2009 at 08:30:09 AM EST
    I have known it was more expensive, but seeing numbers in black-and-white mkes a huge difference.

    I have been against the death penalty for many reasons. this is another one to add to the arsenal.


    Of course (none / 0) (#7)
    by jbindc on Mon Sep 28, 2009 at 08:47:15 AM EST
    those who support the death penalty would argue that those costs include the multiple appeals that are allowed in death penalty cases, which falsely inflates the numer when comparing them to other criminal cases (especially life without parole).

    Now, I agree that we should abolish the death penalty, but I also don't think we should just open the prison doors and let everyone go with a "bad boy/girl - don't do it again!" mentality.  Some people are just meant for SuperMax.

    Who is arguing that? (5.00 / 5) (#8)
    by Sui Juris on Mon Sep 28, 2009 at 09:11:10 AM EST
    I never understand the point of this silly chest-beating when talking about criminal punishment and rehab.

    Prisoners are at our mercy (5.00 / 2) (#13)
    by jondee on Mon Sep 28, 2009 at 11:30:38 AM EST
    and often have already lived a "sinful" life; they're the pefect scapegoat for the outpouring of judeo-christian rage and sadism.

    Look through some old posts here (none / 0) (#10)
    by jbindc on Mon Sep 28, 2009 at 10:12:43 AM EST
    and the comments. Understandable since it is a criminal defense site, but many here think people like mass murderers should be allowed to get out of prison.  Some think no one should go to prison ever.

    Some people deserve rehab, but at some point, when you've been back in the system for the same crime 2 or 3 times, maybe rehab doesn't work and you just need to stay there.  There's also the fact that it's not just about rehab - some criminals just deserve to actually be punished.


    It's about money (none / 0) (#15)
    by SOS on Mon Sep 28, 2009 at 12:47:59 PM EST
    That's the problem with the United States Prison system. We're not paying for rehabilitation we pay salaries and benefits to Prison employees, facility maintenance costs . .  etc . . now Prisons are public companies traded on Wall Street . . and still, what is it inmates have to look forward to upon release? I think many Americans are just totally clueless about just what bad shape the economy is. Sure, your making $100,000 a year, got the nice house, health care, all the shiny toys, leisure . . take a walk on the wild side sometime then you'll see the truth.