Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Cost of Capital Punishment

Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat and a Roman Catholic who has cited religious opposition to the death penalty in the past, is now arguing that capital cases cost three times as much as homicide cases where the death penalty is not sought. “And we can’t afford that,” he said, “when there are better and cheaper ways to reduce crime.”

The Urban Institute study of Maryland concluded that because of appeals, it cost as much as $1.9 million more for a state prosecutor to put someone on death row than it did to put a person in prison. A case that resulted in a death sentence cost $3 million, the study found, compared with less than $1.1 million for a case in which the death penalty was not sought.
Amazing that it costs $2 million dollars more to execute someone then it does to just let them live the rest of their life in jail. Also amazing that it costs $1 million dollars to send someone to jail for the rest of their life. With 16,000 murders in the US each year, this adds up fast.

via NY Times


Rebelfish said...

I think the cost of "life in prison" is fairly reasonable. If they're in "the clink" for 35 years, it averages to $24,000/year. Given food, medical care, prison maintenance, and paying the guards, that doesn't seem too far off. I'm guessing guard salaries are a large portion of that, since when someone's in prison for a much shorter length of time on Death Row and have extensive supervision, that cost skyrockets.

Fat Knowledge said...

Good point. I was looking at it slightly differently.

I was thinking more along the lines that no one thinks of a life sentence as winning the lottery, but it costs the state more to put someone away for life then it does to pay out a $1 million lottery winner.

Conservatives like politicians that are tough on crime and keep government expenditures down, but I have never heard one talk about the trade-offs between the two.

I have also heard few people talk about the rate of return of preventing a murder. At $1 million + in costs per murder, that means quite a lot can be spent on social programs that help to reduce the murder rate. Imagine if there was a counselor working with at risk individuals that could prevent 1 murder a year. A $500,000 salary for such a person might at first glance seem really expensive, but it would actually be a savings to the state and tax payers.

Audacious Epigone said...

The relationship between incarceration rates and crime rates is a difficult one because there are so many factors to consider, but in the US over the last several decades, the trend is clear: More people in prison means fewer people committing crimes.

Re: the cost of the death penalty, the costs are irritating, but there were a whopping 37 people executed in the US last year. When we're looking at trillion dollar spending bills, one billion on executions feels like chump change by comparison.

Audacious Epigone said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Audacious Epigone said...

Here are a couple of graphs that show the nationwide inverse relationship between crime and incarceration:

Fat Knowledge said...

More people in prison means fewer people committing crimes.

I would hope so. :)

The question I would ask then is if it costs $25,000 a year to incarcerate someone plus the opportunity cost of a lost year of wages, how much did it cost for each crime averted? And is there a cheaper way of accomplishing this rather than locking people up? If locking people up is really the cheapest way, I would support it, but is it?

On there being few actual death penalties and therefore this not really being a big deal, I think you have a good point.

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.