Want to Save $114 Million from the State Budget Right Now? Eliminate the Death Penalty

My high school senior spent the last week, preparing for a speech and debate tournament, researching the pros and cons of passing new state law calling for the execution of those prisoners sentenced to death within 20 days of their sentencing date.  It was pretty dramatic stuff, because in high school debate tournaments in OC, you must be able to debate a position you do not personally hold.

The high cost of executing a prisoner can be played on both sides of the argument.

With the law-and-order Republicans always calling for stiffer penalties and longer jail sentences, and then decrying the high cost of prisons, I appeal to your low taxes mantra; you can save our state $114 million a year by immediately abandoning the death penalty and instead incarcerating a prisoner for life without a chance for parole.

This NY Times opinion article makes a pretty compelling case:

“States waste millions of dollars on winning death penalty verdicts, which require an expensive second trial, new witnesses and long jury selections. Death rows require extra security and maintenance costs.

Perhaps the most extreme example is California, whose death row costs taxpayers $114 million a year beyond the cost of imprisoning convicts for life. The state has executed 13 people since 1976 for a total of about $250 million per execution. This is a state whose prisons are filled to bursting (unconstitutionally so, the courts say) and whose government has imposed doomsday-level cuts to social services, health care, schools and parks.”

So, for those doing the math at home; that’s nearly $2 million per execution.  Ask yourself.  Is Scott Peterson worth $2 million it will take to kill him or is it better punishment to let him rot in solitary for the rest of his life? The Innocence Project has some compelling data on death sentence cases and the site is worth seeing.

We’re broke.  Rather than spend money on death row prisoners, we could spend it on schools, state parks, shelters for battered women, and more prisons if we need them.

The death penalty is not a deterrent; Texas and Florida probably executive more prisoners than any othr state and they still have a high number of capital cases resulting in a death sentence.  The only thing an execution stops is that prisoner from ever killing again.

  10 comments for “Want to Save $114 Million from the State Budget Right Now? Eliminate the Death Penalty

  1. September 28, 2009 at 6:14 pm

    From the Tin Star Blog:

    Does the Death Penalty deter crime?

    Deterrence of crime is one of the reasons why a society punishes criminal behavior and one of the arguments frequently used by the anti-death penalty gang is that the use of capital punishment does not deter further acts of murder.

    The argument just got weaker.

    The New York Times published an article that summarizes “roughly a dozen recent studies” conducted by scholars in law and economics which conclude that “executions save lives.”

    For example:

    ”I personally am opposed to the death penalty,” said H. Naci Mocan, an economist at Louisiana State University and an author of a study finding that each execution saves five lives. ”But my research shows that there is a deterrent effect.”

    And here:

    “Gary Becker, who won the Nobel Prize in economics in 1992 and has followed the debate, said the current empirical evidence was ”certainly not decisive” because ”we just don’t get enough variation to be confident we have isolated a deterrent effect.”

    But, Mr. Becker added, ”the evidence of a variety of types — not simply the quantitative evidence — has been enough to convince me that capital punishment does deter and is worth using for the worst sorts of offenses.”

    And here:

    ”The evidence on whether it has a significant deterrent effect seems sufficiently plausible that the moral issue becomes a difficult one,” said Cass R. Sunstein, a law professor at the University of Chicago who has frequently taken liberal positions. ”I did shift from being against the death penalty to thinking that if it has a significant deterrent effect it’s probably justified.”

    And here:

    “Professor Sunstein and Adrian Vermeule, a law professor at Harvard, wrote in their own Stanford Law Review article that ”the recent evidence of a deterrent effect from capital punishment seems impressive, especially in light of its ‘apparent power and unanimity,’ ” quoting a conclusion of a separate overview of the evidence in 2005 by Robert Weisberg, a law professor at Stanford, in the Annual Review of Law and Social Science. ”

    The Times article counters these articles with others that criticize the death penalty as a waste of time and money that could be better spent on crime prevention.

    “There is also a classic economics question lurking in the background, Professor Wolfers said. ”Capital punishment is very expensive,” he said, ”so if you choose to spend money on capital punishment you are choosing not to spend it somewhere else, like policing.”

    Either way, the article states the obvious about the need for an efficient capital punishment system. If we have the death penalty, we need to use it!

    The deterrent effect, according to the article is “most pronounced” in states that “execute condemned inmates relatively often and relatively quickly.”

    The link to the full article by Adam Liptak published in the New York Times is here.


  2. junior
    September 28, 2009 at 6:54 pm

    OK Dan – Hypothetical, just for fun:

    You and I are the undisputed kings of the world – we make the rules.

    King junior is opposed to partial birth abortion.

    King Dan C is opposed to the death penalty.

    King junior proposes to King Dan C that if he would agree to end partial birth abortion – King junior would end the death penalty.

    Is that a deal King Dan?


    King junior

  3. Dan Chmielewski
    September 28, 2009 at 7:26 pm

    Junior — The term “partial birth abortion” is not a medical term but a political one. The term was first coined by the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) in 1995 to describe a procedure to remove fetuses from the womb known as “dilation and extraction,” or D&X, and “intact D&E,” it involves removing the fetus intact by dilating a pregnant woman’s cervix, then pulling the entire body out through the birth canal. This procedure is usually performed when the health of the mother is at risk late in the pregnancy or when there is a serious health issue detected within the fetus. It is not performed in the third trimester according to a number of stories I have read about the procedure. And it is done to minimize damage to the woman’s cervix to provide a new opportunity at motherhood.

    Sorry, but I can’t accept your premise nor accept your deal.

    As for the excellent comment received from the TinStar folks, ending the death penalty in California saves taxpayers $114 million annually.

  4. Jim Benson
    September 29, 2009 at 9:15 am

    While I am not opposed to the death penality, I agree it is not a cost effective solution. Therefore I would support ending it in California.

    The conditions in prison are so bad that those on death row have a longer life expentancy than those in the general population. So we should save the money by ending the death penality and put it to better use.

  5. Claudio Gallegos
    September 29, 2009 at 10:33 am

    Great response Dan. You are correct. Unfortunately many choose to believe the lies they are fed by the Catholic Church. In fact, abortion is completely illegal after the 28th week, which was determined by the court to be the point of viability.

    Of course my old youth minister, when I was a practicing Cathoholic, said it was legal to the due date. They lie, because facts get in the way.

  6. Northcountystorm
    September 29, 2009 at 11:01 am

    Want to guarantee another 4 years of California being led by a Republican Governor? Have the Democrats put on the ballot a measure to abolish the death penalty. Watch that ballot measure–and any statewide Democrat or local Democrat is a sing seat–get crushed. To thirds of the public in California, including a majority of Democrats–support the death penalty as a sentence enhancement. Word the ballot measure as cleverly as a pollster looking for a result might, it will get crushed when voters get to see some of the bad characters who have forfeited their right to live. Go ahead, make the GOP’s day.

    Those with concerns about the death penalty should read the Van De Kamp Commissions report on the death penalty released last year. It did not call for the abolishment of the death penalty but did call for greater resources for both public defenders and the state A.G.’s office to both ensure lower rates of reversals for incompetent or inadequate counsel and to cut down on the delays which increase the costs. The VDK Commission also called for statewide public hearings to determine whether, in an attempt to control costs, the state should either reduce the number of crimes in which the death penalty is a sentence enhancement or eliminate the death penalty and replace it with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

  7. Dan Chmielewski
    September 29, 2009 at 8:54 pm

    NCStorm — I’m sure that’s the same argument Lyndon Johnson got for pushing forward on the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

    I think the death penalty is wrong and immoral, but my rationale for posting this has to do with the million save can save by dumping it without cutting essential services.

  8. Claudio Gallegos
    September 30, 2009 at 8:10 am


    Apples and Oranges. In 1964, it was about helping law abiding citizens gain essential rights they are guaranteed under the constitution but were being denied because of the color of their skin.

    Ending the death penalty is not a civil right movement. You think the Night Stalker or Polly Klaas or Samantha Runnion’s murderers deserve Civil Rights? You equate Martin Luther King’s struggle to these scumbags’ fight to stay alive. Their crimes were immoral and wrong. I am a liberal, but that does not mean we should believe in coddling child murderers.

  9. September 30, 2009 at 10:13 am

    I’m not a liberal but I say DOWN with the D.P.! How many are innocent people railroaded by corrupt DA’s like we have here in orange county?

  10. Northcountystorm
    September 30, 2009 at 10:28 am

    Dan, you stepped on that one. Claudio’s response says it all.

    Fiscal concerns seem to be a the forefront of those who have long morally opposed the death penalty but have gotten little traction with a public who wish to keep it as a tool for the people in enforcing our laws.

    I don’t mean to be repetitive but if you are truly concerned about both the costs and ensuring some help for those either on death row or facing prosecution, get behind the Van De Kamp Commission’s suggestion of hearings to consider reducing the number of crimes the death penalty can be used as a penalty enhancement. And while in the short term it will add costs, the Commission suggested changes to give more resources to defense counsel and to the A.G.’s office. If implemented this would reduce not only the remote possibility of a wrongful conviction but reduce the time period for appelete delays(a major cost of the system) based on claims of inadequate counsel.

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