The death penalty is too expensive. Cases without the death penalty cost an average $740,000, while cases where the death penalty is sought typically cost $1.26 million. Maintaining each death row prisoner costs taxpayers $90,000 more per year than a prisoner in general population.
It is noteworthy that the State of Missouri has never commissioned its own study comparing the costs of the death penalty and life without parole.
Recent Cost Studies From Amnesty
- A 2003 legislative audit in Kansas found that the estimated cost of a death penalty case was 70% more than the cost of a comparable non-death penalty case. Death penalty case costs were counted through to execution (median cost $1.26 million). Non-death penalty case costs were counted through to the end of incarceration (median cost $740,000).
(December 2003 Survey by the Kansas Legislative Post Audit)
- In Tennessee, death penalty trials cost an average of 48% more than the average cost of trials in which prosecutors seek life imprisonment.
(2004 Report from Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury Office of Research)
- In Maryland death penalty cases cost 3 times more than non-death penalty cases, or $3 million for a single case.
(Urban Institute, The Cost of the Death Penalty in Maryland, March 2008)
- In California the current sytem costs $137 million per year; it would cost $11.5 million for a system without the death penalty.
(California Commission for the Fair Administration of Justice, July 2008)
The greatest costs associated with the death penalty occur prior to and during trial, not in post-conviction proceedings. Even if all post-conviction proceedings (appeals) were abolished, the death penalty would still be more expensive than alternative sentences.
- Trials in which the prosecutor is seeking a death sentence have two separate and distinct phases: conviction (guilt/innocence) and sentencing. Special motions and extra time for jury selection typically precede such trials.
- More investigative costs are generally incurred in capital cases, particularly by the prosecution.
- When death penalty trials result in a verdict less than death or are reversed, taxpayers first incur all the extra costs of capital pretrial and trial proceedings and must then also pay either for the cost of incarcerating the prisoner for life or the costs of a retrial (which often leads to a life sentence).
The death penalty diverts resources from genuine crime control measures. Spending money on the death penalty system means:
- Reducing the resources available for crime prevention, mental health treatment, education and rehabilitation, meaningful victims’ services, and drug treatment programs.
- Diverting it from existing components of the criminal justice system, such as prosecutions of drug crimes, domestic violence, and child abuse.
- Emergency services, creating jobs, and police & crime prevention were the three highest rated priorities for use of fiscal resources.
- Schools/libraries, public health, and roads/transportation also ranked higher than the death penalty.
Significant Cost Analysis Research
- North Carolina: Despite the long-term decline in the number of death sentences and the lack of executions, the cost of the death penalty in North Carolina remains high. To document this cost, the empirical analysis presented here focuses on a recent two-year period, comparing actual costs associated with capital proceedings, with likely costs in the absence of the death penalty. The conclusion: the state would have spent almost $11 million less each year on criminal justice activities (including appeals and imprisonment) if the death penalty had been abolished. Additional criminal justice resources would have been freed up and available to be redirected to other cases.[Potential Savings from Abolition of the Death Penalty in North Carolina, Philip J. Cook]
- Maryland: Between 1978 and 1999 there were 56 cases resulting in a death sentence, and these cases will cost Maryland citizens $107.3 million over the lifetime of these cases. In addition, the 106 that did not result in a death sentence are projected to cost Maryland taxpayers an additional $71 million. In addition, the Maryland Capital Defender’s Division cost $7.2 million. Thus, we forecast that the lifetime costs of capitally-prosecuted cases will cost Maryland taxpayers $186 million.[The Cost of the Death Penalty in Maryland, John Roman, Aaron Chalfin, Aaron Sundquist, Carly Knight, Askar Darmenov]
- California: Since reinstating the death penalty in 1978, California taxpayers have spent roughly $4 billion to fund a dysfunctional death penalty
system that has carried out no more than 13 executions. The current backlog of death penalty cases is so severe that most of the 714 prisoners now on death row will wait well over 20 years before their cases are resolved. Many of these condemned inmates will thus languish on death row for decades, only to die of natural causes while still waiting for their cases to be resolved. Despite numerous warnings of the deterioration of California’s capital punishment system and its now imminent collapse, the Legislature has repeatedly failed to enact measures that would improve this death row deadlock. At the same time, voters have continued to expand the death penalty through the direct voter initiative process to increase the number of death-eligible crimes.[Executing the Will of the Voters?: A Roadmap to Mend or End the California Legislature’s Multi-Billion-Dollar Death Penalty Debacle, Judge Arthur L. Alarcón, Paula M. Mitchell]
To find out more:
- Foundation for Economic Education: The Cost of Capital Punishment
Smart on Crime: Reconsidering the Death Penalty in a Time of Economic Crisis, A report from the Death Penalty Information Center. Cost specifics begin on page 14
- Kansas Death Penalty Questions, Infographic based off of recent Kansas cost assessment of the death penalty
- Death Penalty Costs – Texas, a cost fact sheet about Texas.
- Cost and Deterrence Infographic, explains why it costs too much to enforce the death penalty.