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December 8, 2010

"Could Abolishing the Death Penalty Help States Save Money?"

The question in the title of this post is the headline of this new ABC News article.  Here is how the article starts:

In 2003, Seattle resident Robert Kerr was abducted from his apartment and found dead 30 miles from his home, with his bank account emptied and without clothes or identification. At the end of 2010, the state of Washington has yet to arrest or convict anyone for his death.

While Kerr's killers have never been found, the state will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in the coming year on the death penalty for people already behind bars -- a situation that has reformers, and Kerr's family, clamoring for change.

Kerr's case is one of thousands of unsolved murders, and it's the reason his sister, Judy Kerr, supports her state, California, in abolishing the death penalty and reallocating the millions of dollars it spends on death row inmates each year to solving cold cases.

With so many states facing deficits, legislation on the death penalty has started to address the cost of the policy, while justification for it has traditionally focused on whether it's right or wrong. "I thought the crime would be solved quickly, and there would be justice for me," Kerr, a registered nurse from San Francisco, said. "The state needs to be allocating its money toward different things."

California has a $25 billion deficit and almost 700 inmates on death row. According to a 2008 report issued by the California Commission for the Fair Administration of Justice, maintaining the criminal justice system costs $137 million per year, but the cost would drop to $11.5 million if it weren't for the death penalty. A 2010 study from the Northern California chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union found that California would be forced to spend $1 billion on the death penalty in the next five years if the state does not replace capital punishment with permanent imprisonment.

California is not the only state where cost has become an argument for abolishing the death penalty. Last week a commission report recommended to the New Hampshire legislature that the state not expand its death penalty, citing its higher costs as one of the reasons, and the same week a bill to abolish the death penalty in Illinois passed in the state's House Judiciary Committee.

December 8, 2010 at 09:29 AM | Permalink


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Posted by: ABZ | Dec 8, 2010 12:35:18 PM

A lot of hyperbole on both sides, which I enjoy. This one stood out to me in particular: What if we have to give a heart transplant to one of these life without parole inmates? Think of the millions we would have to spend. Yes, you do have to provide humane medical treatment to inmates (except in Alabama and California), but I'm fairly confident that no lifer (or any other inmate) will ever get on a transplant list.

Posted by: Ala JD | Dec 8, 2010 12:55:30 PM

Has anyone ever thought about legalizing marijuna to help generate some money-oh wait they tried that, it failed and the drug cartels are making the money that californians should be making.

Posted by: anon | Dec 8, 2010 1:04:27 PM

"I'm fairly confident that no lifer (or any other inmate) will ever get on a transplant list."

That's not true. At least in the BOP system, inmates have been placed on a transplant list. It takes a while and it can be an arduous process, but it does happen from time to time.

Posted by: DEJ | Dec 8, 2010 1:19:22 PM

"Could Abolishing the Death Penalty Help States Save Money?"

You betcha.

Abolishing imprisonment could save a great deal more money. So let's do that too. Every last cell.

While we're at it, we can abolish the police as well. No need to keep throwing scarce taxpayer dollars at those facist pigs!

Indeed, abolishing Program X will for sure help states save money.

When you talk only about cost, omitting any discussion of why the citizens support the DP, or WHY it costs so much (i.e., frivolous litigation) you are bound to get to the conclusion you want.

As ABZ said, "Duh."

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 8, 2010 4:00:05 PM

I can see some good arguments for maintaining the death penalty, but I don’t think Bill Otis has offered the best ones.

On utilitarian grounds, one can argue that the death penalty is too expensive in relation to the next best punishment available, life without parole. That, of course, is the argument abolitionists are making. I think one can assume that this is their assumed alternative, even in articles that don’t explicitly say so, as the abolitionists have taken that position pretty consistently.

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | Dec 8, 2010 6:07:00 PM

Marc Shepherd --

My post here was designed solely to answer the idioticly bland notion, implied by the headline, that we should end the death penalty because it will "help states save money."

My more comprehensive argument for retaining the death penalty is, among other places, here: http://www.fed-soc.org/debates/dbtid.20/default.asp. That was an online debate Kent and I had with Natasha Minsker of the Northern California ACLU and Prof. David Dow of the University of Houston Law School.

In my view, the current push to end the DP on account of cost is nothing more than a make-weight for a long pre-existing and ideological position. I once put that to the test right on this site by making this offer to abolitionists: I would support a full moratorium on the death penalty during these tough times, in exchange for their support for resumption when prosperity returns.

I think you can guess how many people took me up.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 8, 2010 6:27:56 PM

Marc: Abolitionists should be renamed obstructionists. They intentionally delay and generate $billions in lawyer make work. Then they use the argument the death penalty is too expensive. That tactic has a name. Chutzpah. Unmitigated gall, to use the Humors Theory of Medicine from the Middle Ages. Ii is possible Prof. Berman cannot understand the validity problem with the cost argument because these posts are repeated almost daily. He may believe the argument is a genuine one of economics, rather than the brazen bad faith it really represents.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Dec 8, 2010 10:53:13 PM

SC: Of course abolitionists are obstructionists. They are using every mechanism the law allows, to save their clients’ lives — or if they can’t save them, to delay the end as long as possible. The Supreme Court and various inferior courts have created a jurisprudence that encourages delay. I don’t blame the condemned for taking advantage of it.

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | Dec 9, 2010 8:50:51 AM

Dear Blotis,

Double Duh.

Economics does matter to some. And in a debate (for most coherent readers) in which the options are not death or no penalty at all, but rather the weighing of many important considerations on a difficult issue, your mindless adversarial stance is of no value whatsoever.

Posted by: ABZ | Dec 9, 2010 1:14:35 PM

ABZ --

Talk to Dr. Petit about it, after you've finished cackling about his family's experience. Make sure to include economics, too.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Dec 9, 2010 1:45:46 PM

Could Abolishing the Death Penalty Help States Save Money?
I think so

Posted by: Keylogger Mac | Mar 30, 2011 2:40:01 AM

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