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March 26, 2010

Is it true that nobody's view on the death penalty can be influenced by its costs?

The question in the title of this post is inspired by this notable story coming from Nebraska, which is headlined "Nebraska lawmakers turn down death penalty study."  Here are the basics:

The Legislature split 22-22 Thursday on authorizing a $50,000 study of what it costs to have a death penalty in Nebraska, leaving the question of taxpayer costs unanswered for the time being. Senators opposing the idea expressed concerns that such a study could gather accurate numbers and information.

A response to an inquiry on costs last year by Sens. Danielle Conrad and Jeremy Nordquist to Attorney General John Bruning said the attorney general's office had never tracked the expenditure of its funding on a case-by-case basis. It had never had a budget in which funds were specifically identified for capital punishment.

Opponents also discredited past studies on criminal justice issues and questioned whether knowing the costs would change anyone's mind about supporting or not supporting capital punishment.

Senators opposed to the death penalty have made it "very clear," they don't care about the costs, said Omaha Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh. "It's going to cost us $50,000 and I wonder what we'll find out. And I wonder what we could have done with that $50,000, especially now," he said.

Omaha Sen. Brenda Council, who sponsored the bill (LB1105), said it is important that senators who decide public policy know as much as possible about the policy they are voting on. Money has been an important topic of discussion in this year's session as senators look toward mounting budget shortfalls.... "We need a dispassionate analysis of maintaining this program of government," she said.

Other states have undertaken these cost studies, she said. But some senators have rejected using other state's costs in discussing Nebraska's death penalty.

Last year's approval of lethal injection seemed to settle the issue of the death penalty, said Lincoln Sen. Colby Coash. "Some of you have argued that we can't put a price on justice, and I can agree with that," he said. "But I don't find it to be a compelling argument for ignoring what justice costs. "We don't have anything to fear from figuring this out."

Even capital punishment's staunchest proponents would agree better data make for better debate, no matter the subject matter, said Lincoln Sen. Bill Avery.

Lincoln Sen. Tony Fulton, who has in the past voted against repeal of the death penalty, voted in favor of the cost study. "I have no fears or concerns about getting data," he said. "It's important to have good, solid data when making decisions about taxpayer dollars."...

The issues of law, justice, punishment and consequences are incredibly complex, said Judiciary Chairman Brad Ashford. It is extremely hard work to decide how to deal with the behaviors out there that affect all of us. "If we can't study in-depth the ultimate punishment for the crime of first-degree murder," he said, "how are we ever going to sort out the other parts of our sentencing law?"

I wonder if the Tea Party Movement had any input in this debate, as I would expect that the members of that party would be eager to know the cost of any and every government program and would be (justifiably?) concerns that a lot of government waste and inefficiency surrounds the application of the ultimate punishment for the crime of first-degree murder in Nebraska.

Relatedly, I would think that at least some members of the all the political parties might have their views on the death penalty influenced by a sober accounting of its costs.  I am certain ardent proponents and ardent opponents of the death penalty (whose voices far too often dominate the debate) are very unlikely to have their views changed based on cost data.  But I would suspect that a tangible (and sizable?) percentage of voters (and politicians?) do not hold ardent views on this issue and thus might be influenced by an effective accounting of the costs of a government-run, single-payer death penalty system.

Some recent related posts on the costs of capital punsihment:

March 26, 2010 at 07:06 PM | Permalink


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Under 123D, all problems with the death penalty get solved. The penalty is automatic, and should not be appealable. It should be quickly reviewed, in case some big mistaking is taking place. If the person is innocent of the third conviction for a violent crime, he is still a bad guy because of two prior conviction. This count will give control of the prison back to the proper authorities. Most prisoners have had 2 convictions for violent crimes. So the third in prison will result in immediate death. This will empty the prison of the violent predator. All the gangbangers, the white supremacists, the serial killers, gone in 60 seconds. Lawyers and judges seeking to block this remedy should face impeachment and should be driven out of town by crime victim family direct action groups. This is not a punishment. It is an expulsion from the world upon which these predators are making war.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Mar 26, 2010 11:18:11 PM

I think it likely that the overwhelming majority of folks make their decision based upon finding the death penalty right or wrong.

Economics must be a factor in state budgets.

The real issue is how econimically efficient the death penalty can be made, if the state were to be responsible.

For example, the Virginia protocol would result in the death penalty being less expensive than LWOP.

However, judges allow or don't allow the death penalty to be a proper and responsible sanction. EG Irresponsible Pa, NJ: Responsible Virginia, Texas

"Death Penalty Cost Studies: Saving Costs over LWOP"

And, what is the cost of not having the death penalty?

"The Death Penalty: More Protection for Innocents"

Posted by: Dudley Sharp | May 19, 2010 7:33:58 AM

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