Cost Comparisons: Death Penalty Cases Vs Equivalent Life Sentence Cases

In comparing the cost of death penalty cases to other sentences, the studies are woefully incomplete.
 
Generally, such studies have one or more of the following problems.
 
1) All studies exclude the cost of geriatric care, recently found to be $69,000/inmate/yr. A significant omission from life sentence costs.
 
2) All studies exclude the cost savings of the death penalty, which is the ONLY sentence which allows for a plea bargain to a maximum life sentence. Such plea bargains accrue as a cost benefit to the death penalty, such benefit being the cost of trials and appeals for every such plea bargain. The cost savings would be for trial and appeals, an amount estimated to be at least $1 million per case. Depending upon jurisdiction, this may result in a zero net cost for the death penalty, depending on the number of plea bargains Vs the number of death penalty trials, or an actual net cost benefit.
 
3) FCC economist Dr. Paul Zimmerman finds that executions result in a huge cost benefit to society. "Specifically, it is estimated that each state execution deters somewhere between 3 and 25 murders per year (14 being the average). Assuming that the value of human life is approximately $5 million {i.e. the average of the range estimates provided by Viscussi (1993)}, our estimates imply that society avoids losing approximately $70 million per year on average at the current rate of execution all else equal." The study used state level data from 1978 to 1997 for all 50 states (excluding Washington D.C.). (1)

That is a cost benefit of $70 million per execution.  6 additional, recent studies support the deterrent effect. Deterrence report upon request.
 
No cost study has included such calculations.
 
Although we find it inappropriate to put a dollar value on life, evidently this is not uncommon for economists, insurers, etc.
 
We know that living murderers are infinitely more likely to harm and murder, again, than are executed murderers. There is no doubt that executions do save innocent lives. What value do you put on the lives saved? Certainly not less than $5 million.
 
4) a) Some studies compare the cost of a death penalty case, including pre trial, trial, appeals and incarceration, to only the cost of incarceration for 40 years, excluding all trial costs and appeals, for a life sentence. The much cited Texas "study" does this.  Hardly an apples to apples cost comparison.
       b) The pure deception in some cost "studies" is overt. It has been claimed that it costs $3.2 million/execution in Florida. That "study" decided to add the cost of the entire death penalty system in Florida ($57 million), which included all of the death penalty cases and dividing that number by only the number of executions (18). One could just have easily stated that the cost of the estimated 200 death row inmates was $285,000 per case.
 
5) There is no reason for death penalty appeals to take longer than 7 years. All death penalty appeals, direct and writ, should travel through the process concurrently, thereby giving every appellate issue 7 years of consideration through both state and federal courts. There is no need for endless repetition and delay. It currently takes about 12 years for appeals. A 5 year reduction in time, enforcement of the concurrent path for appeals and the end of repetitive appeals would save $200,000 per death penalty case.
 
Judges are the most serious roadblock in timely resolution. They can and do hold up cases, inexcusably, for long periods of time.  Texas, which leads the nation in executions, by far, takes over 10 years, on average, to execute murderers. However, the state and federal courts, for that jurisdiction,  handle many cases. Texas has the second lowest rate of the courts overturning death penalty cases. Could every other jurisdiction process appeals in 7-10 years. Of course, if the justices would allow it.

6) If a state is considering an execution moratorium, such costs should be included. All studies exclude the cost of a moratorium. A moratorium will add approximately $20,000/yr/inmate for a state's expenditures, for those inmates not executed during that period.
 
Justice
7) The main reason sentences are given is because jurors find that it is the most just punishment available. No state, concerned with justice, will base a decision on cost alone. If they did, all cases would be plea bargained and every crime would have a probation option.

Many more errors and omissions can be identified. The bottom line is that there are currently no studies which give us a true picture of the cost of death penalty cases Vs a maximum life sentence for equivalent cases.
 
There may be a cost benefit for the death penalty.
 
At the very least, with just this partial list of errors and omissions found in current death penalty studies, no one can use the cost issue as a reason for saving a jurisdiction money or for an execution moratorium.
 
1). "State Executions, Deterrence and the Incidence of Murder", Paul R. Zimmerman (zimmy@att.net), March 3. 2003, Social Science Research Network, http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/delivery.cfm/SSRN_ID354680_code021216500.pdf?abstractid=354680


Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters
e-mail  sharpjfa@aol.com,  713-622-5491,
Houston, Texas
 
Mr. Sharp has appeared on ABC, CBS, CNN, FOX, NBC, NPR, PBS, BBC and many other TV and radio networks, on such programs as Nightline, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, The O'Reilly Factor, etc., has been quoted in newspapers throughout the world and is a published author.
 
A former opponent of capital punishment, he has written and granted interviews about, testified on and debated the subject of the death penalty, extensively and internationally.
 
Pro death penalty sites
www.cjlf.org/deathpenalty/DPinformation.htm
www.dpinfo.com/
www.prodeathpenalty.com
http://www.prodeathpenalty.org/
http://w1.155.telia.com/~u15525046/ny_sida_1.htm
www.wesleylowe.com/cp.html
www.vuac.org/capital

My focus has been on violent crime issues and what can be done, within the criminal justice and legislative systems, to lessen injury to the innocent and to prosecute the guilty.  To accomplish that goal, involvement in community education, elections, legislation, victim's rights issues, including assistance in individual cases are all important.


 

What did you think of this article?




Trackbacks
  • No trackbacks exist for this post.
Comments
  • No comments exist for this post.
Leave a comment

Submitted comments are subject to moderation before being displayed.

 Name

 Email (will not be published)

 Website

Your comment is 0 characters limited to 3000 characters.