Death Penalty Opponents claim we should abolish it because it costs too much. These claims are misleading and inflated.
- The studies relied on by death penalty opponents were either written by them or rely on data collected by them;
- The only unbiased study to determine the true costs was conducted done by the RAND Corporation, a nonpartisan organization which operates independent of political pressures;
- The RAND Corporation found there was no objective data available to give a true estimate of the costs of the death penalty.
A breakdown of the costs shows why this Opponents’ claims are misleading and inflated:
Investigation and Trial Costs
The SAFE California Initiative claims it will save $40 million per year by eliminating the need to investigate and conduct death penalty trials. There is no truth to this.
- Unless murder is legalized, police and prosecutors will still investigate and conduct murder trials;
- Murder defendants facing life in prison will not suddenly plead guilty if the death penalty is dropped;
- Eliminating the death penalty will not eliminate the fixed costs of the court system;
- Judges, prosecutors, public defenders and court staff will still be paid whether they are doing a death penalty trial, a theft trial or no trial at all.
Death Penalty Opponents purposely create costs in order to lead the public into believing it’s just too expensive.
The cost of appeals is directly related to:
- Delay tactics designed to avoid the punishment imposed;
- Endless appeals and lawsuits filed by the Opponents to avoid the punishment.
The solution to fixing the appeals process and reducing costs is simple: Pass a Constitutional amendment to streamline the appeals process.
- This has been sought by many elected officials, including Chief Justice Ron George (now retired) and state legislators.
- These efforts have failed, mainly because anti-death penalty legislators kill the bills that will fix the appeals process.
Elimination of the death penalty will not eliminate all of these costs:
- Murderers will still appeal whether they are sentenced to death or life in prison;
- Defense attorneys will still be paid to file these appeals.
Death Penalty Opponents repeatedly claim that the cost of housing death row inmates is $90,000 a year more than other inmates. This is simply not true but continues to be repeated by the media.
- The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) does not track the housing costs of death row inmates (2009 State Audit Report);
- CDCR tracks costs by prison; some prisons cost more;
- All Death Row inmates are housed at San Quentin along with other types of inmates;
- The average cost per inmate at San Quentin is $57,339 (2009 State Audit Report);
- Eliminating the death penalty will not eliminate the costs of housing these murderers;
In addition, eliminating the death penalty will cost taxpayers more in healthcare costs.
- All inmates are given full medical and dental care at taxpayer expense;
- Because of lawsuits, CDCR has been forced to provide extraordinary health care to some inmates;
- One inmate serving time for robbery was given a heart transplant costing nearly $1 million in taxpayer dollars.
- Older inmates simply cost more.
The Relative Costs of the Death Penalty
The SAFE California Initiative proponents claim that a single execution is $308 million. Again, this number is wrong.
- The Death Penalty Opponents divided $4 billion (their claim of the total cost of death penalty for last 33 years) by 14 (number of executions that have occurred);
- If you follow their math, then the cost for the remaining 700+ death row inmates would be free.
The SAFE California Initiative proponents also claim that the death penalty costs $137 million per year (as of 2008). Even assuming that was true, it represents a miniscule amount of California’s budget.
- This cost is only 1% of CDCR’s entire budget
- This cost is only 1/10th of 1% of California’s total budget
By comparison, in 2010, the County of Los Angeles budgeted $214 million to remodel a single government building.
The True Costs
The true costs of the death penalty are the thousands of lives taken by these murderers and the families waiting for justice.