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October 20, 2009

New DPIC report assails costs (and opportunity costs) of death penalty administration

As detailed in this CNN report and this press release, the Death Penalty Information Center has released a new study on the costs of capital punishment administration.  The new study, which is available at this link, is titled "Smart on Crime: Reconsidering the Death Penalty in a Time of Economic Crisis." Here is the start of the report's executive summary:

“Smart on Crime” is a new report from the Death Penalty Information Center that explores the prospect of saving states hundreds of millions of dollars by ending the death penalty.  The report also serves to release a national poll of police chiefs in which they rank the death penalty at the bottom of their priorities for achieving a safer society.  The death penalty in the U.S. is an enormously expensive and wasteful program with no clear benefits.

All of the studies on the cost of capital punishment conclude it is much more expensive than a system with life sentences as the maximum penalty.  In a time of painful budget cutbacks, states are pouring money into a system that results in a declining number of death sentences and executions that are almost exclusively carried out in just one area of the country.  As many states face further deficits, it is an appropriate time to consider whether maintaining the costly death penalty system is being smart on crime.

The nation’s police chiefs rank the death penalty last in their priorities for effective crime reduction. The officers do not believe the death penalty acts as a deterrent to murder, and they rate it as one of most inefficient uses of taxpayer dollars in fighting crime.  Criminologists concur that the death penalty does not effectively reduce the number of murders.

Some recent related posts on the costs of capital punsihment:

October 20, 2009 at 10:22 AM | Permalink


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Oh hey, since you're interest in drunk drivers, SCOTUS denied Virginia v Harris, with Roberts and Scalia issuing a dissent containing a dire warning.

Posted by: l | Oct 20, 2009 11:29:04 AM

"The principal reason why the death penalty is so expensive can be summed up in one phrase: “death is different.”71 Whenever the government seeks to execute a human being, the legal system is required by a long line of U.S. Supreme Court precedent, buttressed by American Bar Association guidelines, to apply a more methodical and reliable process. The older, less guided form of capital punishment, was struck down as unconstitutional in 1972.72"

That is pretty honest about the source of rent seeking, and pretextual litigation, driving up costs. However, it is pretty low class to exploit the irrelevant, lawyer caused economic crisis for their partisan purpose. It is the equivalent of saying, a space shuttle blew up, showing the wrath of God about the death penalty. The lawyer caused the expense, now uses the lawyer caused expense as a pretext end it, assuming greater receptivity by people distressed by their economic situation.

Being the lawyer's best friend, I also predict that stopping the death penalty will lose the lawyer $billions in income from that specialized appellate business. Now is not the time to cut back on government expenditures, or else face much higher lawyer unemployment and loss of income. We are in a recession, when government spending should increase.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 20, 2009 1:25:21 PM

This "news release" has about as much news in it as the revelation that the moon is round. At least the DPIC is consistent in maintaining its misleading name. It puts out some information, sure, but in fact it's a firebrand abolitionist organization. Hiding its agenda under the pretense of merely furnishing "information" is as old as the hills with the DPIC, but it's no more honest than it was years ago.

Incidentally, while DPIC is telling us all this cool information about police chiefs' view of the DP, why does it omit the obvious main item, to wit, whether the chiefs favor abolition? Clue: Because, like the rest of the public, the chiefs overwhelmingly favor RETENTION, not abolition.

That DP opponents have to be this sleazy tells you a great deal of what they think of their own case.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 20, 2009 3:10:53 PM


I have been to the DPIC website before. If they are trying to hide their "agenda", they're doing an awful job of it. Are you this critical of pro-death penalty groups and their agendas? Where can we get objective information on the death penalty?

Posted by: Shawn | Oct 20, 2009 3:52:17 PM

Shawn -- I said that the name, "Death Penalty Information Center," is misleading, as it suggests merely an information source. You do not disagree with this.

I also suggested that the DPIC report about police chiefs is so twisted as to be dishonest, and you don't disagree with that either.

I am not "this critical" of pro-DP groups and their agendas, for the simple reason that they don't advertise themselves as fact sources when instead they are advocates.

For neutral and reliable information about the DP, I recommend the BJS website, and for public attitudes about the subject, the Gallup poll, which has been examining it for decades.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 20, 2009 5:51:33 PM

DPIC intentionally misrepresents to the media where it is coming from. They prominently call themselves "nonpartisan," a term which is literally true in the sense of not affiliated with a political party but which often misleads people into thinking they are a neutral source of information. They were often referred to that way in news reports in the past. Occasionally they still are, although the AP has wised up and generally identifies them as an anti-death-penalty organization.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Oct 20, 2009 6:52:54 PM

It's always easier to attack the messenger than to address the message. I am not surprised.

Posted by: Mark #1 | Oct 20, 2009 10:23:25 PM

Mark #1 --

You wisely decline to defend the messenger, there being no credible defense to be had.

As to addressing the message, Kent and I did so at length in an on-line debate against two distinguished abolitionist experts. This is the link: http://www.fed-soc.org/debates/dbtid.20/default.asp.

Please feel free to add anything you want to the abolitionist side.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 21, 2009 5:54:55 AM

Bill: I suggest adding the dose-response curve to the deterrence argument, and the immunization by abolition of all subsequent crime after the first murder.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 21, 2009 7:15:19 AM

Mark #1: "It's always easier to attack the messenger than to address the message."

When the messenger misrepresents who he is -- posturing as neutral when he is really an advocate for one side -- exposing that deception is entirely in order.

Most of the message has been addressed before as it is mostly recycled. The only thing I saw in there that was new was addressed at C&C.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Oct 22, 2009 1:56:46 PM

Addressing the message & the messanger.

Death Penalty Cost Studies: Saving Costs over LWOP

As a general rule, the death penalty cost studies are worthless. Those that purport to compare life without parole costs to death penalty costs are, in most cases, comparing apples to kangaroos not apples to apples.

There is no reason that the death penalty, in general, should be more expensive than LWOP and, in many, if not most cases, the death penalty should be less expensive.

1) Virginia: How the death penalty will save money over life without parole (LWOP).

Virginia executes in 5-7 years. 65% of those sentenced to death have been executed. Only 15% of their death penalty cases are overturned. (Source Virginia AG)

With the high costs of long term imprisonment, such a system, as Virginia's, a true life sentence will be more expensive than such a death penalty protocol. All states could duplicate this protocol, with the major exception that you can't transfer Virginia jurisdiction judges to other states.

2) Texas cost study - I have told the Dallas Morning News, for many years, to stop using their totally inaccurate cost review. They still use it.

They found that it costs $2.3 million per average death penalty case (for 5 cases), more than 3 times more expensive than a $750,000 life sentence. (C. Hoppe, "Executions Cost Texas Millions," The Dallas Morning News, March 8, 1992, 1A)

The death penalty costs are for pre trial, trial and appeals and incarceration. Yet, the life cost is only for confinement for life. Big problem.

In addition, an academic review, by a neutral academic, found that the verifiable costs in the DMN article actually found the death penalty was cheaper.

p154-156 http://books.google.com/books?id=IQJtCjhdGeUC&pg=PA154&lpg=PA154&ots=Mtji7SSu0v&dq=cost+%22death+penalty%22+Dallas+morning+news%22&ie=ISO-8859-1&output=html

3) Duke (North Carolina) Death Penalty Cost Study: Let's be honest

Almost exclusively, this study is presented, by media and anti death penalty folks, as the best example of the death penalty being much more expensive than a life sentence. Fact checking reveals just the opposite.

This study has been so distorted in the media and within anti death penalty literature that it really should be mandatory teaching in journalism schools as a fact checking disaster. I cannot find one example where the authors of the study ever corrected these distortions, thereby reflecting poorly on them, as well.

Prof. Cook, one of the authors, has a new study out, which claims an $11 million savings for NC, by ending the death penalty. $11 million is about $0.20 /citizen/year for 6 years. I haven't read this newer study, yet. Based upon the previous study, may be it really finds the death penalty saves money.

4) Cost Savings: The Death Penalty

A general review of some of the study problems and corrections for them.

5) Maryland cost study: A reply

SUMMARY: The cost errors, within the Majority Report, are so substantial that their cannot be considered reliable. Is it possible that a properly managed death penalty system could be less expensive than a true life sentence? Read on.

See Dudley Sharp second comment to article, after article at

6) Colorado

Cost, Deception & the Death Penalty: The Colorado Experience

From the beginning, this was, only, another anti death penalty effort. Based upon the review, plea bargains to a life sentence, only possible because of the presence of the death penalty, likely, would save money for Colorado.


7) New Jersey - See my reply to the official state review of costs, in the reply section, at bottom

December 24, 2007 6:50 AM
dudleysharp said...

8) Kansas - The study most quoted found that death penalty cases cost 70%, or about $500,000 more per median case cost than for the equivalent non death penalty murder case, but, the foundation was this: " . . .there was nothing we could look at to verify the accuracy of any of the data assembled for this report." (page 2). "Actual cost figures for death penalty and non death penalty cases in Kansas don't exist." (page 10). On pages 29 and 31 the study discussed methods of saving money. Again, please refer to "Cost Savings: The Death Penalty". ("Performance Office Report: Costs Incurred for Death penalty Cases", A K-Goal Audit of the Department of Corrections, by the Legislative Division of Post Audit - A Report to the Legislative Post Audit Committee, December 2003)

9) California - There are a few cost study numbers that are quoted, based, exclusively on analysis by anti death penalty folks. California considered a thorough, objective study by RAND, below, but rejected it. It was too expensive!

"Investigating the Costs of the Death Penalty in California: Insights for Future Data Collection in California, RAND Corp., 2/2008

Posted by: Dudley Sharp | Apr 9, 2010 6:23:33 AM

Notice this part of the message:

"A nationwide poll of police chiefs conducted by RT Strategies, released with the report, found that they ranked the death penalty last among their priorities for crime-fighting, do not believe the death penalty deters murder,
and rate it as the least efficient use of limited taxpayer dollars."

Let's analyse the poll.

1) It is the last among priorities for crime fighting because capital murder is the least committed of all crimes - thank goodness.

2) Ask the police chiefs if a policeman with a drawn gun deters criminals. Hint, it does. Why? Because all prospects of a negative outcome deter some. The death penalty doesn't contradict that truism.

3) Ask the police chiefs which they think is the least efficent use of crime fighting dollars, the death penalty or polls? (BTW, show them my cost analysis before asking).

Posted by: Dudley Sharp | Apr 9, 2010 6:36:47 AM

The poll forgot to ask the police chiefs:

"Do you think we should get rid of the death penalty for those who murder policemen?"

Posted by: Dudley Sharp | Apr 9, 2010 6:41:34 AM

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