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A Cruel and Unusual Waste of Money

Posted on Oct 21, 2009
Flickr / ThisParticularGreg

Executing people is expensive. A new report by the Death Penalty Information Center says California is spending more than 10 times as much on capital punishment—$137 million a year—as it would on an alternative life-without-parole system. New York and New Jersey repealed the death penalty after spending hundreds of millions without an execution to show for it.

Why is it when states look to cut costs, as California has, they go after positive social programs that benefit the poor, kids and seniors? If we’re going to slash education budgets every time we hit a downturn, then we ought to start thinking about execution as a luxury. It may be wildly popular in this country, but we just can’t afford it.  —PZS

Christian Science Monitor:

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 DPIC 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.

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By Inherit The Wind, October 24, 2009 at 6:36 pm Link to this comment

Let me see….
Our penal system is supposed to:
1) remove criminals from committing more crimes.
2) rehabilitate them.
3) deter others
4) punish them.
5) provide closure to the victims.

The death penalty can only be guaranteed to do 1) Remove them and 4) punish them.  It SOMETIMES can provide closure but often as not the victim’s family would prefer there NOT be another death.

Life Without Parole can perform ALL these functions and even rehabilitate them so they have SOME contribution to make.

The death penalty has never acted as a deterrence. Only high odds of being caught and incarcerated can.  And today the odds suck.

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By dudleysharp, October 23, 2009 at 12:14 pm Link to this comment

How bad is the Death Penalty Information Center?: A response to the DPIC’s “Smart on Crime: Reconsidering the Death Penalty”
Dudley Sharp, contact info below

-The DPIC cost reviews are, extremely, misleading.

    1) For example, their highly inaccurate description of costs in North Carolina. The study actually shows that life without parole is considerably more expensive than the death penalty. (1) This is typical of DPIC and infects their entire report.

    2) If relevant states wanted to improve death penalty efficiency, they would emulate Virginia: executions occur within 5-7 years, 65% of those sentenced to death have been executed and only 15% of their death penalty cases are overturned - a protocol that would be much less expensive than life without parole. (2) In a bad economy, most of us look at improving efficiency, the DPIC only looks at highly inefficient, irresponsible death penalty systems, or mischaracterize cost studies. Standard, for them.

-  Likely, the police chiefs are unaware that there have been, at least, 16 recent studies, inclusive of their defenses, which have found for death penalty deterrence. All prospects of a negative outcome deter some. There is no exception.  (3)

- The death penalty would be at the bottom of police chief’s violent crime priorities, as capital murders represent, thankfully and by far, the fewest of all violent crimes.

- The DPIC should have ask police chiefs if they believed the death penalty was appropriate for those who murder police. I bet about 90% do.

Dudley Sharp
e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address),  713-622-5491,
Houston, Texas

Mr. Sharp has appeared on ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN, C-SPAN, FOX, NBC, NPR, PBS , VOA and many other TV and radio networks, on such programs as Nightline, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, The O’Reilly Factor, etc., has been quoted in newspapers throughout the world and is a published author.

A former opponent of capital punishment, he has written and granted interviews about, testified on and debated the subject of the death penalty, extensively and internationally.

(1)  Duke (North Carolina) Death Penalty Cost Study: Let’s be honest

(2) “Cost Savings: The Death Penalty”

(3)  a) Articles on death penalty deterrence

    b) “Deterrence and the Death Penalty: A Reply to Radelet and Lacock”

    c) “Death Penalty, Deterrence & Murder Rates: Let’s be clear”

      d) “The Death Penalty: More Protection for Innocents”

(4)  The 130 (now 138) death row “innocents” scam

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By Frank, October 22, 2009 at 12:32 pm Link to this comment

PatrickHenry, you beat me to it.  That is just what I was thinking.

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By ghostcommander, October 22, 2009 at 10:01 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The average cost of keeping someone in prison is $27,000(?) yearly and is paid for by taxpayer dollars. Many of those in prison are repeat offenders of minor crimes. Would society and the taxpayer be better off to pay someone not to commit crimes?

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By Thomas Dooley, October 22, 2009 at 9:19 am Link to this comment

Making a decision to kill a person based on costs is nuts. This is a moral decision not an economic one. If this article is arguing that prisoners shouldn’t be killed because it costs too much then the answer is obvious—reduce the cost—which is exactly what PatrickHenry proposes below.

An argument based on “costs” makes no sense. What are these “costs?” It isn’t like it actually takes a lot of real resources to kill a person. Excessive “costs” isn’t an argument for or against capital punishment. It is an argument for or against excessive legal costs. It says that lawyers and judges are being paid too much to do little more than sit at tables either reading or writing papers. We all know how to read and write so it’s not clear why these people deserve the high incomes they demand other than they wield enough power to force us to pay them.

Whether you think that lawyers and judges are making a pantload of money from the process is a separate question of whether you think the state should periodically take a prisoner that it has fully under its control and kill him.

I don’t trust the government with the power to kill its citizens and don’t believe it should hold any such power over me, you, or anyone else. You can be assured that the government will misuse it or maybe just screw it up as it has done many times. But this practical argument is not my main objection to the practice. This sordid business of killing prisoners is immoral. It is an evil all on its own. It’s just that simple.

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By Jim Yell, October 22, 2009 at 7:54 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Cruel and Unusual punishment? What better example than locking someone up away from the sun, the rain, the seasons for life, without even a hope of parole. Yep that is what you are asking for.

The sad thing is there is no tidy way to control people unable to control themselves, just as there is no tidy way to WAR. But, for survival sometimes it needs to be done.

One thing to protect the innocent might be to make the punishment of law-enforcement and prosecution liable for the same punishment that an innocent accused of crime is found guilty of, because of false (aka also known as lies) proof of guilt manufactured by oversealous police and prosectutors? Might be an idea.

As to Life in prison we didn’t even cover here the consequence to the guards who wind up with a warped sense of what is permitted and accepted in treatment of people impossible to control

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By UnchiNeko, October 21, 2009 at 10:01 pm Link to this comment

hey, *PatrickHenry*, I don’t like any method of murder, that’s just me. but, your conservatism is
unbelievably rad!!!! that would be great, y’know, to adopt the Chinese method. it
would provide the neo-cons with a major solution. You see they can’t, with their
fiscal policies and what not, support the mass amount of money that comes with a
death sentence—-but, being emotional and reactionary, they can’t ignore their
(Old Testament, the one refuted by Christ) morals—-so, yeah, cap’em…bill the
fam’. sweeeeeeeeeeeet. problem solved… xo, ShitCat (yeah, that’s what UnchiNeko

p.s. perhaps you should look into the frenchman, from last century, that shared
the same name with your mythological patriot…there are some interesting things
about the death penalty to be found in his story—-or at least that of his lawyer.

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By ChaoticGood, October 21, 2009 at 8:44 pm Link to this comment

The Death Penalty advocates just want revenge and thats all there is to it.  All the rest of the “reasons” are just side issues.

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By Inherit The Wind, October 21, 2009 at 7:40 pm Link to this comment

30 years ago, a fellow grad student researched the death penalty and found, SURPRISE!, it costs more to execute someone than to keep him alive and in prison for 30 years….Now it’s news again?

But in Texas, they take the approach “Kill ‘em and let God sort it out.”  This presumes two bizarre premises:
1) God exists
2) God won’t see the executioners as murderers for NOT determining that the condemned was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, but rushed them to the lethal needle for political expediency.

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By PatrickHenry, October 21, 2009 at 5:46 pm Link to this comment

I like the Chinese method, cap them and bill the family for the bullet.

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