Report: Death Penalty “Enormously Expensive”, “No Clear Benefits”

 

Restraining Chair, San Quentin (photo by Casaflamingo)
Restraining Chair, San Quentin (photo by Casaflamingo)

A new report from the Death Penalty Information Center takes a look at an often-neglected piece of the debate over capital punishment – the financial cost.

 

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.

The numbers the study throws around are pretty harrowing. In the most extreme example, California is spending $137 million per year to maintain death row despite having no executions over the last 3 1/2 years. The justification for maintaining death rows in the middle of an economic crisis has become less and less tenable. This is especially true in the wake of revelations about Cameron Todd Willingham, an apparently innocent man who was killed at the hands of the state of Texas in 2004, because so many of the extra costs incurred by the death penalty seek to prevent such circumstances as killing the innocent.

Clearly, eliminating the death penalty cannot solve all of these problems, but the savings would be significant. Where studies have been done, the excess expenditures per year for the death penalty typically are close to $10 million per state. If a new police officer (or teacher, or ambulance driver) is paid $40,000 per year, this death penalty money could be used to fund 250 additional workers in each state to secure a better community.

The study estimates that the total costs one death penalty trial are as much as $1 million dollars extra to the state over a trial where the maximum penalty is life in prison without the possibility of parole. And that’s a low estimate; the number varies depending on the state and its pay scales.

A national poll of police chiefs, released in the report, shows that the death penalty ranks at the bottom of their list of priorities on how to allocate criminal justice resources. In a revealing statistic, 69% of police chiefs agree that politicians support capital punishment simply to portray themselves as “tough on crime.”

The report is available here. CNN has a report as well.

Report: Death Penalty “Enormously Expensive”, “No Clear Benefits”

A new report from the Death Penalty Information Center takes a look at an often-neglected piece of the debate over capital punishment – the financial cost.

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.

The numbers the study throws around are pretty harrowing. In the most extreme example, California is spending $137 million per year to maintain death row despite having no executions over the last 3 1/2 years. The justification for maintaining death rows in the middle of an economic crisis has become less and less tenable. This is especially true in the wake of revelations about Cameron Todd Willingham, an apparently innocent man who was killed at the hands of the state of Texas in 2004, because so many of the extra costs incurred by the death penalty seek to prevent such circumstances as killing the innocent.

Clearly, eliminating the death penalty cannot solve all of these problems, but the savings would be significant. Where studies have been done, the excess expenditures per year for the death penalty typically are close to $10 million per state. If a new police officer (or teacher, or ambulance driver) is paid $40,000 per year, this death penalty money could be used to fund 250 additional workers in each state to secure a better community.

The study estimates that the total costs one death penalty trial are as much as $1 million dollars extra to the state over a trial where the maximum penalty is life in prison without the possibility of parole. And that’s a low estimate; the number varies depending on the state and its pay scales.

A national poll of police chiefs, released in the report, shows that the death penalty ranks at the bottom of their list of priorities on how to allocate criminal justice resources. In a revealing statistic, 69% of police chiefs agree that politicians support capital punishment simply to portray themselves as “tough on crime.”

The report is available here. CNN has a report as well.