Death Penalty Virtually every major program designed to address the underlying causes of violence and to support the poor, vulnerable, powerless victims of crime is being cut even further to the bone In this context, the proposition that the death penalty is a needed addition to our arsenal of weapons lacks credibility Scott Harshbarge, Attorney General of Massachusetts Across the United States, police officers are losing their jobs, prisoners are obtaining parole early, courts are clogging with cases, and crime is on the rise. Over two-thirds of the states use capital punishment, which is a grave mistake by any measure of cost effectiveness. The government spends hundreds of millions of dollars in order to punish a few individuals each year. Yet, these actions do nothing to slow the rise in violent crimes. Moreover, the death penalty has been used to portray toughness on crime, but it actually leaves communities worse off in their fight against crime. At the same time that states are pouring money into the capital punishment black hole, lack of funds is also causing the criminal justice system to break down.
Consequently, the public is left with fewer resources, which otherwise could benefit their entire community. Every working person in the United States pays taxes to fund the government. However, is the death penalty a cost-effective way to use the taxpayer’s money? After evaluating the cost of the death penalty and the effects of paying that cost, one would agree that the death penalty is not a cost-effective way to fight crime and thus the government should abolish the death penalty. The death penalty is much more expensive than life imprisonment. In Texas, the death penalty cost taxpayers an average of $2.3 million each year, about three times the cost of imprisoning someone in a single cell at the highest security level for 40 years.
Death penalty trials are also longer and more expensive than ordinary murder trials. A North Carolina study found that death penalty trials take 4 times longer and cost $200,000 more than non-death penalty trials. In California, capital punishment trials are six times more costly than other murder trials. A Kansas study also found that capital punishment trials cost an extraordinary amount more than ordinary murder trials. The irreversibility of the death sentence causes courts to heighten due processing through preparation and through the course of the trial. In the North Carolina study, twenty-four principal areas were identified as the causes of death penalty cases being longer and more expensive. Some of these areas are pre-trial motions, expert witness investigation, jury selection, and the necessity for two trials.
The two separate trials, one for guilt and the other for sentencing, are prime examples of the cost multiplier of pursuing the death penalty. The separate sentencing phase of the trial at times takes even longer than the guilt phase of the trial. Yet, if the death penalty was abolished, all these extra cost would be prevented. The trial itself could at times be avoided because defendants are much more likely to insist on a trial, when they are facing a possible death sentence. That is evident, as shown by the lack of guilty pleas in capital punishment cases. Self-preservation is a natural instinct. Therefore, even after conviction, defendants are constitutionally mandating appeals, which involves both prosecution and defense costs.
Regardless of the outcome, these costs are the norm for every case where the death is sought. So in actuality, the true cost of the death penalty includes all the added expenses of the unsuccessful trials that sought the death penalty but failed to achieve the sentence of death. And to make matters worse, if a defendant is convicted but not sentence to death, the state will still have to pay the price of life imprisonment, in addition to the increased trial expenses. In Florida, each execution costs the state $3.2 million. In California, it was reported that the state could save $90 millions a year if it abolished the death penalty.
The New York Department of Correctional Services estimated that implementing the death penalty would cost the state about $118 million annually. The money that would be spent to implement the death penalty in New York for five years could fund 250 additional police officers and build prisons for 6000 inmates. The costly effect of the death penalty reach farther than the pockets of the taxpayers. The American Bar Association found that the justice system in many parts of the United States is on the verge of collapsing due to inadequate funding. New Jersey, for example, laid off more than 500 police officers in 1991; during the same period of time, New Jersey was also implementing the death penalty, which cost them $16 million per year. Florida, on the other hand, had a $45 million budget cut from the Department of Corrections, which forced it to release 3,000 inmates early.
Moreover, Florida was another state spending millions of dollars on the death penalty. The Sierra County District Attorney, James Reichle, was quoted saying, If we didn’t have to pay $50,000 a pop for Sacramento’s murders, I’d have an investigator and the sheriff would have a couple of extra deputies and we could do some lasting good for Sierra county law enforcement. In Texas, the early release of prisoners has meant that inmates are serving only twenty percent of their sentences. So this great weapon we call the death penalty is in actuality taking police officers off the streets, while putting convicted criminals back on the street and all at the tax payers expense. Knowing that the death penalty is cost inefficient, the opposition believes that we should increase its efficiency by limiting the appeal process and not abolish it all together. Efforts are under way in both Congress and the Supreme Court to perform this action by reducing the avenues of appeals to those sentence to death. The opposition believes that this would substantially cut the price of the death penalty. Even though, it would save millions of dollars, that is not a substantial amount when viewing it holistically. Since the bulk of the cost of the death penalty occurs at the trial level, tinkering with the avenues of appeals will not save much.
A Kansas study, for example, estimated that the annual cost for implementing the death penalty would be $11.4 million, of which $9.2 million would be for the trial cost. New York estimated that the cost per case would be $1.8 million, of which $1.5 million would be the trial cost. A second factor that would have to be taken into consideration would be that most defendants in capital punishment cases do not receive the death sentence, leaving their price tag unaffected by the change in the appeal system. In addition, more and more people are going through the death sentence process, which will cause the total cost to continuously grow. Even though millions may be saved in the near future, billions will still be spent in the long run.
And the final thing to consider is that the death penalty requires that expenses are paid up front, while life imprisonment allows the gradual payment over years, making imprisonment even more pleasing to the pocket book. Chief Criminal Judge of Oregon was quoted saying, Whether you’re for it or against it, I think the fact is that Oregon simply can’t afford it. The wide gap in the cost of the death penalty opposed to life imprisonment leaves room for no arguments. The cost of implementing the death penalty is taking its toll on all areas of government. Police offices are taken off the streets, while criminals are being placed on the streets.
The death penalty is merely a black hole sucking in millions of dollars each year with no sign of benefit. The death penalty should be abolished; it should not be made more efficient. Even if new rules save millions, billions would still be wasted. So many other departments of law enforcement could benefit from this money. Furthermore, a lot money could remain in the pockets’ of the American taxpayer. Presently, the only ones benefiting from the death penalty are the lawyers. All this money and time spent in order to make lawyers rich.