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May 18, 2010

"Death penalty kills the budget"

The title of this post is the headline of this effective commentary making the financial case against bringing the death penalty back to Massachusetts.  Here are snippets:

Among the 869 sundry amendments to the Massachusetts House budget bill is a proposal, sponsored by Rep. James Miseli, to reinstate capital punishment in the Commonwealth.... A 32-year veteran of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, the Wilmington democrat is a rock-solid law and order guy, and proud of it.  For years he has yearned to see the death penalty restored in Massachusetts, a state that has not executed anyone since 1947 when two men were electrocuted at Charlestown State Prison. Feeling thwarted by House leadership in getting a full hearing for a capital punishment bill, Miseli chose the unconventional route of a budget bill add-on. Ironically, if the proposal were to become law, the state budget would be severely strained.

Miselli’s amendment resurrects former Governor Mitt Romney's capital punishment bill from 2005. Romney's proposal attempted to eliminate the chance of error by constructing a foolproof system informed by science, such as DNA and other high-tech approaches, to achieve a “no-doubt” standard.  The layers of safeguards, including a tandem of top-notch defense attorneys, wide latitude in hiring experts, appeals and post-conviction review by panels of specialists, would have made the state's capital punishment machinery the most expensive in the nation. When Romney called his proposal a "gold standard," he wasn't kidding, at least about the gold part.

Notwithstanding my reluctance to judge justice purely in terms of dollars and cents, there is one absolute truth about capital punishment: it costs a state millions to establish and manage the process.  When a prosecutor decides to seek the death penalty, the government incurs tremendous expense, not so much related to the execution itself, but associated with the trial and appellate review.  Capital murder cases tend to involve more legal motions, more expert witnesses, and longer trials, including a separate penalty phase for the jury to decide between life imprisonment and the death penalty.  And if the sentence is to be death, the per inmate cost of incarceration on death row is substantially greater than that for the general prison population.

Study after study have confirmed the high price tag for capital punishment. For example, an analysis of capital trial costs in Maryland, published by the Urban Institute, estimated the average expense of a successful death penalty prosecution to be about $3 million, triple the lifetime cost of a capital-eligible case in which prosecutors does not seek death. A recent estimate in Florida of the aggregate cost of administering the state’s capital punishment process was projected at $51 million annually....

Gov. Romney didn’t get very far in his effort to reintroduce capital punishment in Massachusetts, nor did Miseli in his most recent attempt. The Miseli-sponsored add-on was quickly and strategically eclipsed by an overriding amendment to send the capital punishment proposal for further study, which is typically the death sentence for unwanted legislation.

Some recent related posts on the costs of capital punsihment:

May 18, 2010 at 09:47 AM | Permalink


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First, those studies used have been debunked.

Secondly, all the states have to do it duplicate the Virginia death penalty protocol and they will save money (with the MAJOR caveate that you would need to exchange Mass judges for those from Va.)

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"

"Duke (North Carolina) Death Penalty Cost Study: Let's be honest"
(NOTE: A 2009 study, by one of these authors, found that by ending the death penalty NC might save $11 million , or about $0.11/person/month. I have not read it, yet.)

Posted by: Dudley Sharp | May 19, 2010 7:26:43 AM

Say the standard market approach to valuation of life puts it at $6 million. If you save the life of one person, including a fellow prisoner, for every 2 executions, you have gotten all your money back from 2 executions. There are 10 times or even 20 times more homicides in prison than there are executions. Many are of innocent guards, and visitors (almost none are of lawyers).

The lawyer rent seeker has not only generated worthless costs in appellate reviews, he has cost the value of two lives for every convict getting LWOP. I am not advocating for deterrence of others, an unlawful and improper purpose of the death penalty. I am advocating for the incapacitation of murderers.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 20, 2010 6:31:19 PM

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