The Cost of the Death Penalty

Posted by Pauline Rogan on July 1st, 2009

For those of us who strongly oppose the death penalty, there are both moral and pragmatic reasons why we do so. Personally, I believe that taking the life of another human being in every circumstance is wrong. When you add to that the fact that innocent people are often imprisoned and occasionally executed (133 people have been exonerated and released from death row since 1971), and that the death penalty is applied in a random manner (many studies show that race, quality of legal representation, and geography influence who is sentenced to death), I feel more than compelled to work for its immediate abolition.

While recently living in California, however, I discovered that the main reason some proponents of the death penalty are slowly beginning to question its use is the cost. Some supporters of the death penalty are putting aside the moral issues, and asking themselves whether they can continue to support such a costly policy in the face of tax increases and cuts to other public safety programs.

In California, the Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice discovered that the death penalty costs the state more than $125 million a year beyond the costs of sentencing everyone to permanent imprisonment. The exorbitant cost of the death penalty was one of the main reasons Colorado came close to abolishing the death penalty in May.

Interestingly, although the cost of the death penalty is one of the factors currently changing the minds many Americans, the costs have gone largely unnoticed by many American legislators.

In April, Contra Costa County prosecutors revealed that as part of their required budget cuts, they would be forced to stop prosecuting misdemeanors. Why then, in this severe economic crisis is the government, including the District Attorney's office in Contra Costa, still insisting on spending millions of tax payers dollars to kill prisoners that are already safely behind bars instead of using this money to keep society safe by investing in crime prevention? 

It seems that everyone is trying to find new ways to save money, yet the majority seem blind to the one way we could save millions, and instead are sacrificing programs that that are far more beneficial to society. Why is killing higher on our list of priority's than education, crime prevention, or health care? I believe that many state and local governments have our priorities all muddled up.

Pauline Rogan was an intern with Death Penalty Focus for three months in 2009. She currently resides in England.




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