The Cost of the Death Penalty

(If you haven’t watched our video on this subject, we recommend you do so as it has lots of useful information that may not be covered here. Just click the hyperlink to check it out.) So, where do the high costs of the death penalty come from? The answer to this question has multiple parts. The majority of these high costs come from two things: the lengthy pardon appeals that death row inmates are guaranteed access to, and the higher security measures required to incarcerate those inmates. The exact costs are shown below, and we hope that you consider them (updated 2010 and 2011).

  • “An Urban Institute study of Maryland’s experience with the death penalty found that a single death-penalty trial cost $1.9 million more than a non-death-penalty trial. Since 1978, the cost to taxpayers for the five executions the state carried out was $37.2 million dollars — each.” [Fox News]
  • “Since 1983, taxpayers in New Jersey have paid $253 million more for death penalty trials than they would have paid for trials not seeking execution.” [Fox News]
  • “A recent Duke University study of North Carolina’s death penalty costs found that the state could save $11 million a year by substituting life in prison for the death penalty.” [Fox News]
  • “California spends more than $130 million a year on its capital punishment system — housing and prosecuting inmates and coping with an appellate system that has kept some convicted killers waiting for an execution date since the late 1970s.” [CNN]
  • “[There is] a new report that concludes that states are wasting millions on an inefficient death penalty system, diverting scarce funds from other anti-crime and law enforcement programs.” [CNN]
  • The suffering state of California would immediately save $1 billion if they would only drop the death penalty.
  • “The average cost of defending a trial in a federal death case is $620,932, about 8 times that of a federal murder case in which the death penalty is not sought.” [Death Penalty Information Center]
  • “Each death penalty case in Texas costs taxpayers about $2.3 million. That is about three times the cost of imprisoning someone in a single cell at the highest security level for 40 years.” [Death Penalty Information Center]
  • One of the most outstanding examples of the death penalty being far more expensive than life imprisonment is the state of California. The ACLU of Northern California has a highly detailed power point which goes into detail the finances of capital punishment.
Looking at the chart below, we can see how the costs for death penalty trials in Maryland are exponentially higher than normal court trials. This is because of the special care that goes into trying someone on death row, like having to use a judge that is certified in death penalty cases for example. In addition to the initial cases, though, one also has to take note of the appeals that go into a death row case. These appeals are allowed because it decreases the possibility that something was missed, meaning that the wrong person was about to be put to death. The philosophy of “Better safe than sorry!” is another way to put it. These are the reasons for the much higher cost of a death penalty trial than those of a regular trial.
In the following bar graph, specific cases are shown to give you a better understanding of the exponential price increase between a death penalty trial and a non-death penalty trial. The price of the two non-death penalty trials are nearly half that of the cheapest death penalty trial. This chart alone should show a viewer the obscene cost in order put someone on death row.
In the following pie chart, the numbers don’t lie. The most expensive part of the death penalty is the trials. This is attributed to the multiple appeal processes that death row inmates are guaranteed. These appeals serve as a guard against putting an innocent person to death. This graph represents California, the state with the most death row inmates in America.
The case is the same for nearly all of the 35 states that still enact the death penalty. We can argue about the morality of the death penalty until our heads explode, but these are hard facts that shouldn’t be ignored. By spending money when there is a much cheaper alternative solution, these states are failing in there responsibilities to care for themselves. In essence, they are reducing their citizens’ safety as well, and isn’t that what the death penalty is all about? Making us safer by getting rid of the murderers?
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