“When Gov. Martin O’Malley appeared before the Maryland Senate last week, he made an unconventional argument that is becoming increasingly popular in cash-strapped states: abolish the death penalty to cut costs.”
Yesterday’s New York Times contained an article titled “Citing Cost, States Consider End to Death Penalty.”
Read the article by CLICKING HERE and be sure to check out the graphic.
“The economic realities have forced even longtime supporters of the death penalty, like Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, to rethink their positions.
Mr. Richardson, a Democrat, has said he may sign a bill repealing capital punishment that passed the House last week and is pending in a Senate committee. He cited growing concerns about miscarriages of justice, but he added that cost was a factor in his shifting views and was “a valid reason in this era of austerity and tight budgets.”
My favorite highlight:
“Kent Scheidegger, legal director of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, an organization in Sacramento that works on behalf of crime victims, called the anticipated savings a mirage. He added that with the death penalty, prosecutors can more easily offer life sentences in a plea bargain and thus avoid trial costs.
But Eric M. Freedman, a death penalty expert at Hofstra Law School, said studies had shown that plea bargaining rates were roughly the same in states that had the death penalty as in states that did not.”
Here in Tennessee, we are spending millions on our death penalty system while we have viable alternatives like life without parole and life in prison (51 years before parole eligibility). Like other states, we are in a budget crisis and the death penalty is a black hole of spending that will continue to cost this state millions of taxpayer’s dollars.
Richard C. Dieter, Executive Director of Death Penalty Information Center, had an excellent article published by the Huffington Post that makes a compelling argument for “letting go of the death penalty.”
Read the article by clicking HERE.
Dieter examines the death penalty for what it truly is: a costly, time consuming, resource expending, and flawed public policy. In this time of financial crisis, Dieter questions the death penalty’s existence as public expenditures like education and health care are in jeopardy.
Consider these facts from the article:
-California spends $138 million per year on their death penalty “but only executes less than one person every two years”
-California is now planning a new death row that will cost the state $400 million
-Maryland’s death penalty over the past 28 years has cost $37 million per execution
-Florida spends $24 million per execution
-California spends $250 million per execution
Tennessee is not an exception. The state is in a serious financial crisis. And yet, Tennessee is spending millions on its death penalty. Meanwhile, the true costs are unknown because the state does not have a centralized data collecting method. In this time of economic recession, how can Tennessee justify the exorbitant costs of the death penalty and not even know what it is truly spending?
Proponents of the death penalty advocate that the death penalty is necessary to be tough on crime.
“In the past, people were often scared into believing that the death penalty was needed to be tough on crime. Today, the death penalty is more like a bridge to nowhere–an expensive government program that does not advance the general good. It may be time to let this extravagance go.”
Tennessee’s State Funding Board has heard from experts that there will be a revenue shortfall between $271 and $380 million dollars. “State officials have been told to expect to cut up to $380 million more in spending before the fiscal year ends in June.” This news prompted TCASK members Harry Simpson of Nashville and Steve Reddick of Oak Ridge to write their local papers because they both believe that the state is spending far too much money on one area of public policy.
Read Harry’s letter in the Tennessean HERE.
“For years, experts have known that the death penalty’s costs are exorbitant. Maryland found that the death penalty cost taxpayers at least $186 million more in prosecuting and defending capital murder cases over two decades than would have been spent without the threat of execution and has executed a total of five people.”
Read Steve’s letter in the Oak Ridger HERE.
“And I’m not suggesting that abolishing the death penalty would solve all (or even many) of our state’s budget woes. But abolition would certainly free up dollars to better address the root causes of crime and to help crime victims and their families. That, to me, is an investment worth making.”
When the presidential nominees give their speeches after a primary has been completed, they typically begin by thanking the state they are in. “Thank you Ohio.” “Thank you Iowa.” etc. etc. Today, I would like to say from Nashville, “Thank you Maryland.” The Abell Foundation, located in Baltimore, funded a definitive cost study conducted by the Urban Institue, “a national, nonpartisan research organization in Washington.”
The study concluded that the death penalty “has cost Maryland taxpayers at least $186 million more in prosecuting and defending capital murder cases over two decades than would have been spent without the threat of execution.” “The study estimates that the cost of reaching a single death sentence costs the state an average of $3 million, which is $1.9 million more than a non-death penalty case costs, even after factoring in the long-term costs of incarcerating convicted killers not sentenced to death.”
The article that covered the release of the study gets into greater detail about how these figures were determined. I found the methodology to be highly logical. I implore you to read the article by CLICKING HERE.
“Although groups in many death penalty states have analyzed the cost of such cases, the Urban Institute’s Maryland study is the first to statistically control for factors that might otherwise make a capital case more expensive,” said Andrew Davies, a researcher with the New York State Defenders Association, which in the 1980s completed the first such study. “The argument goes that … death penalty cases might be worse or more heinous cases, so that even if they weren’t death penalty cases, they still would be more expensive,” he said. “But in this study, they’ve isolated the pure effect of the death penalty on inflating the cost of cases.” I’d also like to point out that the study did not include “costs associated with federal court proceedings in state capital cases.”
Studies like these are paramount in showing citizens and their leaders that the death penalty is a costly and ineffective public policy. Maryland has come very close to getting abolition legislation on their legislature’s floor in the past. This study should help that effort out significantly. This study also reaffirms my annoyance that the death penalty is justified even though it is a terrible public policy. We must place the same magnifying glass on the death penalty as we place on all other forms of public policy.
Kudos to James Staub for his piece in Sunday’s Tennessean. As a murder victim’s family member, James’ voice is of vital importance as the state of Tennessee examines the death penalty, particularly concerning the question of whether or not it serves victims’ families.
James points out that the current lethal injection debate is just one detail as we consider the larger questions involved with the death penalty. He raises issues of wrongful convictions, cost, and the increasing numbers of victims’ families, law enforcement, and district attorneys who believe that the death penalty is a diversion of tax dollars and an ineffective deterrent.
As I read the article and continue to reflect on the death penalty as a public policy, I wonder again and again why we hang on to it? If it is not a deterrent, costs too much, does not serve victims’ families, and is not necessary to protect us, then why? Why?