Tuesday, December 7, 2010

ABC news reports on cost of the death penalty

Could Abolishing the Death Penalty Help States Save Money?," at ABC News.  There is video at the link.

California has a $25 billion deficit and almost 700 inmates on death row. According to a 2008 report issued by the California Commission for the Fair Administration of Justice, maintaining the criminal justice system costs $137 million per year, but the cost would drop to $11.5 million if it weren't for the death penalty. A 2010 study from the Northern California chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union found that California would be forced to spend $1 billion on the death penalty in the next five years if the state does not replace capital punishment with permanent imprisonment.

California is not the only state where cost has become an argument for abolishing the death penalty.


Illinois Democratic State Rep. Karen Yarbrough, a sponsor of the bill, said she had been working on the issue of abolishing the death penalty for four years, and this is the closest the vote has ever come in the legislature for this measure. Yarbrough said she needs one more vote to call the bill to the Illinois House floor for a vote in January.

"Illinois has spent over $100 million in 10 years and hasn't put anyone to death," Yarbrough said. "It's time to put this barbaric practice to rest."

Yarbrough's bill would take the money saved from the death penalty and put it toward solving cold cases in the state, and training law enforcement officials.

"We have a $13 billion shortfall in the budget," she said. "We want to be pennywise and be able to put this money into something substantial."


A typical cost per year for the death penalty ranges from $10 million to $20 million in states that have one or fewer executions per year, according to Richard Dieter, executive director of the nonpartisan Death Penalty Information Center. This number does not take into account states that have extreme numbers of executions or death row inmates, such as Texas or California.

"There have been quite a few studies in various states," Dieter said. "And the studies have all concluded that the death penalty is more of a burden on taxpayers than if the same defendant receives a life sentence."

A study by a Duke University economist in 2009 of North Carolina's death penalty costs found that the state could save $11 million a year if it abolished the death penalty.

In 2008, an Urban Institute study of Maryland found that a death penalty trial costs $1.9 million more than a nondeath penalty trial. The study also estimated that the state's taxpayers had paid at least $37.2 million for each of the five executions the state had carried out since 1978.

The Tennessee Comptroller of the Currency estimated in 2004 that death penalty trials cost an average of 48 percent more than trials in which prosecutors seek life imprisonment.

A 2003 legislative audit in Kansas concluded that capital cases are 70 percent more expensive than comparable nondeath penalty cases.

Every part of a death penalty case is longer and requires more legal time, since capital punishment is on the table, Dieter said.