Some states have eliminated the death penalty simply because all of the special appeals and custodial requirements have made capital punishment simply too expensive, a huge factor in times of budgetary restrictions. With a 2008 Gallup poll telling us that 64% of Americans believe in governmental executions, clearly all of the humanitarian arguments in favor of banning this form of justice are going to fall on deaf legislative ears in major swaths across the country. If there is going to be a ban on death sentences, then it’s going to be about the money.
We executed 37 prisoners last year (Texas alone killed 18), and while we aren’t even close to the 1178 executions that took place in China last year, we do make the “top five” list of countries that execute criminals, joining such notable nations (in addition to China) as Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Two thirds of the world, 189 nations to be exact, have banned capital punishment, and the European Union countries look at the U.S. practices are fairly primitive and barbaric.
The Christian Science Monitor (csmonitor.com, Oct. 20) provides a litany of facts concerning this economic analysis noting that approximately 3,300 American inmates are currently sitting on death row: “A 2008 study in California found that the state was spending $137 million a year on capital cases. A comparable system that instead sentenced the same offenders to life without parole would cost $11.5 million, says the [Death Penalty Information Center] report, citing the study's estimates… New York spent $170 million over nine years on capital cases before repealing the death penalty. No executions were carried out there…. New Jersey spent $253 million over 25 years with no executions. That state also repealed capital punishment. [ New Mexico also recently abolished the death penalty.]
“Some officials may be tempted to try to cut capital-punishment costs, notes the DPIC report, but many of those costs reflect Supreme Court-mandated protections at the trial and appeals-court levels. ‘The choice today is between a very expensive death penalty and one that risks falling below constitutional standards,’ the report says… Nationwide, the report estimates, at least $2 billion has been spent since 1976 for costs that wouldn't have been incurred if the severest penalty were life in prison. The figure is based on an estimate in a 1993 North Carolina study that found the average extra cost of a death sentence in this state was $300,000 [and that was 1993 dollars – some folks think it is now in serious seven or even eight figures; see below]. The average extra cost of capital punishment is significantly higher in several other states like California , Florida , and Maryland , the report says.”
According to a report in the October 20 Yahoo.com news, the DPIC believes that the actual cost per death row execution is more like $25 million and that capital cases cost $1 million more than ordinary cases to prosecute; since, the death penalty is given in only one out of three of such cases, this increases the number up to $3 million average of extra prosecution cost per death penalty conviction. 57% of police chiefs even doubt that the death penalty has any serious deterrent value (39% believe that it does), so are we really getting, you should pardon my expression, enough “bang” for our buck?
Saving money these days is a good thing, no matter which side of the issue you may be on. So, by the way, is making sure that you don’t execute innocent prisoners. Amnesty International tells us that 4 U.S. prisoners on death row were released in 2008 based on subsequent findings of innocence, bringing to more than 120 the number of such cases in the US since 1975. And while I do get riled up over terrorists, serial killers and mass murderers, I get even more riled up when I think those bastards are costing me bucket-loads of cash! I suspect we might actually have a better use for all that cash – like educating our children well in enough in the first place to actually reduce the number of psycho-killers we are sentencing to death today.
I’m Peter Dekom, and I approve this message.