A Rebuttal to “Cut This: The Death Penalty”(1)
Death Penalty vs Life Costs in California
By Dudley Sharp



NOTE: Clark is a Calif. ACLU activist and The California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice’s (CCFAJ) is a Calif. government commission.

Clark’s/CCFAJ’s cost review is wildly inaccurate and misleading. I doubt that there is any more veracity to the death row costs than with their lifer cost evaluations. None of Clark/CCFAJ’s numbers can be relied upon.

Clark/CCFAJ says: “In total, California’s death penalty system costs taxpayers $137 million per year. Contrast that with just $11 million per year if we replace the death penalty with permanent imprisonment.”

For 700 inmates, that is:

death penalty costs: $137 million per year or $196,000//inmate/yr.



life imprisonment costs: $11 million/year or $15,700/inmate/yr.

It is complete, utter nonsense.

Some reality:

The last full California audit (Sept 2009) found the average costs, 2007-2008, per adult inmate was $49,000/inmate/yr. (2) In 1997, it was $25,000/inmate/yr. (3).

This $49,000/inmate/yr is the average for all inmates, not the level IV security of death row inmate like criminals that will cost more, if not much more.



Clark/CCFAJ is stating that these enhanced security prisoners will cost $34,000/inmate/yr LESS than the average cost for all Ca inmates. Clark’s’SSFAJ’s lack of credibility is of an astounding level. Clark’s analysis is laughable.

But, Clark/CCFAJ get even worse.

Without the death penalty, Clark/CCFAJ’s select group of former death row murderers would likely be in level IV security and, as lifers, would die as geriatric prisoners or from earlier illness, likely costing on average $80,000-$100,000/inmate/yr., or more, with a rare few costing a $1 million or more per year with illness and/or geriatric stages.



Geriatric problems often begins at age 50 for inmates.

NOTE: The California Medical Facility for corrections averages $83,000/inmate/yr. (4). There, likely, would be additonal costs when dealing with Level IV security prisoners.

But, for Clark/CCFAJ, former death row inmates, now lifers, cost $15,700/inmate/yr.



But, it gets even worse for Clark/CCFAJ.

Clark/CCFAJ will admit, if prodded (5) that “the figure of $137 million estimates the entire cost of the death penalty system, not simply housing, but also inclusive of all post-conviction costs, including legal appeals.”

In other words, Clark/CCFAJ is admitting escalating the death penalty costs over the alleged cost comparisons of incarceration between lifers and death row. Not at all surprising Clark/CCFAJ excludes such from the lifer costs.

The Clark/CCFAJ’s cost comparisons/evaluations are a very bad joke. Instead of making an honest apples to apples cost comparison, Clark/CCFAJ brings us an apples to Rolls Royce cost comparison, as if it is apples to apples.



Because so many of these cost comparisons are so pathetically unreliable, California considered that an objective assessment by RAND should be considered (6). The basis for a proper evaluation was presented, but Ca rejected doing the study, because . . . it was too expensive!

CONCLUSION – Save even more money?

There is no need for California to have a death row. Current death row prisoners can be placed in Level IV security cells, or lower levels depending upon evaluations, just as Missouri and Kansas do.

California can make their death sentenced inmates cheaper than their lifers, if they properly manage their citizens money, as Virginia does. California must only have the will to be responsible stewards of their citizens resources – something that seems to elude California lawmakers, just as basic, accurate evaluations evade Clark/CCFAJ.

(Later update: Virginia executes, on average, within 7.1 years and has executed 75% of those so sentenced, a protocol that would, on average, be less expensive than comparable LWOP cases).

Today, there is no reason for Ca death row to cost more than level IV security and a proper evaluation would likely show death row cheaper or no more expensive than Level IV.

There would be no cost savings in getting rid of death row, with the exception that, if Calif had a responsible death penalty protocol, there would be many more executed murderers, thus reducing incarceration costs on death row, saving money on incarcerations costs over other level IV prisoners.



(1) An article by James Clark, field organizer, ACLU of Southern California.

(2) pg 77, fiscal year 2007-2008, http://www.bsa.ca.gov/pdfs/reports/2009-107.1.pdf

(3) http://www.bsa.ca.gov/pdfs/reports/97125.pdf

(4) page 80, fiscal year 2007-2008, http://www.bsa.ca.gov/pdfs/reports/2009-107.1.pdf

(5) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/james-clark/cut-this-the-death-penalt_b_627759.html

(6) “Investigating the Costs of the Death Penalty in California: Insights for Future Data Collection in California, RAND Corp., 2/2008

One thought on “Death Penalty Costs: California

  • September 20, 2012 at 11:28 am

    Thanks for post. It really informative stuff. I really like to read. Hope to learn a lot and have a nice experience here! My best regards guys! Tuff. I really like to read. Hope to learn a lot and have a nice experience here! My best regards guys!
    Locksmith Matthews NC


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