Lethal Injection room at San Quentin State Prison
Every time the lethal injection room at San Quentin state prison (pictured) is used, it costs the taxpayers of California $308 million. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

The death penalty is a controversial issue in the United States, one of the few core countries that uses the death penalty. Regardless of the debate over whether the death penalty should be used or not, states that use the death penalty have to pay a lot for it.

Study finds California pays $300 million per execution

A study has been released about the cost to the taxpayers of California for the death penalty, according to CNN. Judge Arthur Alarcon and Paula Mitchell, a professor at the Loyola University law school, found the 13 executions California has carried out since 1978 cost the state $4 billion, or $308 million per execution. By 2030, that will rise to $9 billion, in a state with a $26 billion budget shortfall. California pays $184 million more per year for prosecutors to pursue death penalty cases than it would cost to pursue sentences of life without the possibility of parole. Because of the exhaustive legal appeals necessary for death penalty cases, the state has to pay $300,000 for defense attorneys for indigent prisoners per case. The state of California, according to The Guardian, hasn’t executed a prisoner in five years.

Trials expensive enough

Each death penalty trial costs $1 million more than a life sentence case, and each death row prisoner costs the state $100,000 per year to incarcerate. The average length of time on death row is 25 years in California. The high cost of a death penalty trial is not confined to California. During the recent trial of New York mob boss Vincent Basciano, a.k.a. “Vinny Gorgeous,” two of the four lawyers involved in the defense were paid $187 an hour by the taxpayers of New York, according to the New York Times. This trial has been pending for more than a year, and by April of this year had already cost taxpayers $4.3 million for the defense. The decision to pursue the death penalty in this case was approved by President George W. Bush. Vinny Gorgeous has been serving life without parole since 2007, according to Wikipedia, for other crimes.

Prosecution doesn’t always get it right

The cost of death penalty cases in which the prosecution manages to get the conviction and sentence correctly is considerable. When prosecuting attorneys get it wrong, it makes things worse. Rampant prosecution-related misconduct led the state of Illinois to abolish the death penalty, and a recent study found malfeasance of prosecutors, police officers and forensic investigators cost the taxpayers of Illinois $214 million this year in settlements and court costs, according to the Chicago Tribune, including murder trials. The 197 death penalty trials held in New Jersey between 1983 and 2010 cost the state $254 million more than life sentence trials would have, and only 60 death sentences were handed down, according to Fox News. Fifty of those convictions were overturned, and New Jersey has yet to execute a single prisoner.

Sources

CNN: http://money.cnn.com/2011/06/20/news/economy/california_death_penalty/index.htm

The Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jun/20/california-death-penalty-execution-costs

New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/03/nyregion/a-high-price-for-seeking-the-death-penalty.html

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vincent_Basciano

Chicago Tribune: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/chibrknews-study-wrongful-convictions-cost-taxpayers-214m-20110619,0,6408737.story

Fox News: http://www.foxnews.com/us/2010/03/27/just-cost-death-penalty-killer-state-budgets/

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