Reasonable and responsible protocols,  currently in use, will produce a death penalty which costs no more, or will cost less,  than Life Without Parole (LWOP).
Death penalty states could better implement justice, as given by jurors, and save taxpayers money, currently wasted by many irresponsible state systems.


1) Obvious solution, Improve the system


Virginia executes in 5-7 years. 65% of those sentenced to death have been executed. Only 15% of their death penalty cases are overturned. The national averages are 11 years,  14% and 36%, respectively.

With the high costs of long term imprisonment, a true life sentence will be more expensive than such a death penalty protocol.

2) Current cost study problems

a) Geriatric care: Most cost studies exclude geriatric care, recently found to be $60,000-$90,000/inmate/yr., a significant omission from life sentence costs. Prisoners are often found to be geriatric at relatively young ages, 50-55, because of lifestyle.
b) Plea Bargain to life:  Only the presence of the death penalty allows for a plea bargain to a maximum life sentence. Such plea cost benefit, estimated at $500,000 to $1 million/case, accrues as a cost benefit/credit to the death penalty. I am aware of no study which includes this.

c) The cost of death row: No additional cost is necessary. Missouri and Kansas don’t have a death row.
NOTE: Depending upon jurisdiction, the inclusion of only 2a and 2b may result in a minimal cost differential between the two sanctions or an actual net cost benefit to the death penalty. Adding (1) would, very likely, mean that all death penalty jurisdictions would see a cost savings with the death penalty when comparing it to a true life sentence.



3) The Disinformation Problem: The pure deception in some cost “studies” is overt

        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, and geriatric care for a life sentence. The much cited, highly misleading Texas “study” does this.
        b) 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). It is the same as stating that the cost of LWOP is $15 million/case, based upon all costs of 2000 LWOP cases being placed into the 40 lifers to have died (given an average cost of $300, 000/LWOP case, so far, for those 2000 cases.). The much cited and misused Duke University death penalty cost analysis for North Carolina does the same thing.
        c) Many of the “studies”, such as Maryland’s (2008), suffer from similar or worse problems.



4) Deterrence “value”


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). Zimmerman, 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.  15 additional recent studies, inclusive of their defenses,  support the deterrent effect. 
Although I may 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.

5) Justice


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.

1). “State Executions, Deterrence and the Incidence of Murder”, Paul R. Zimmerman (, March 3. 2003, Social Science Research Network,
copyright 2003-2009 Dudley Sharp
Permission for distribution of this document, in whole or in part,  is approved with proper attribution.
Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters
e-mail,  713-622-5491,
Houston, Texas
Mr. Sharp has appeared on ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN, C-SPAN, FOX, NBC, NPR, PBS , VOA 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 

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5 thoughts on “Cost Savings: The Death Penalty

  • April 27, 2011 at 8:52 pm

    There are a few questions on your site.
    How can I contact the administration?

  • April 28, 2011 at 5:49 pm

    Then someone versed in radio? Need a colleague who spoke to briefly on the transistor T2 (not clear how to check the condition = gv1). I hope hams here “deep”. If not quite on, sorry. Forced to write out just do not see. PS: if the spelling is not correct that, too, sorry, I’m 13 years old only.


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