As a general rule, the death penalty cost studies are worthless. Those that purport to compare life without parole costs to death penalty costs are, in most cases, comparing apples to kangaroos not apples to apples.
There is no reason that the death penalty, in general, should be more expensive than LWOP and, in many, if not most cases, the death penalty should be less expensive.
1) Virginia: How the death penalty will save money over life without parole (LWOP).
Virginia executes in 5-7 years. 65% of those sentenced to death have been executed. Only 15% of their death penalty cases are overturned.  (Source Virginia AG)
With the high costs of long term imprisonment, such a system, as Virginia’s, a true life sentence will be more expensive than such a death penalty protocol. All states could duplicate this protocol, with the major exception that you can’t transfer Virginia jurisdiction judges to other states.
2) Texas cost study – I have told the Dallas Morning News, for many years, to stop using their totally inaccurate cost review. They still use it.
They found that it costs $2.3 million per average death penalty case (for 5 cases), more than 3 times more expensive than a $750,000 life sentence.  (C. Hoppe, “Executions Cost Texas Millions,” The Dallas Morning News, March 8, 1992, 1A)
The death penalty costs are for pre trial, trial and appeals and incarceration. Yet, the life cost is only for confinement for life. Big problem.
In addition, an academic review, by a neutral academic, found that the verifiable costs in the DMN article actually found the death penalty was cheaper.


3) Duke (North Carolina) Death Penalty Cost Study: Let’s be honest
Almost exclusively, this study is presented, by media and anti death penalty folks, as the best example of the death penalty being much more expensive than a life sentence.  Fact checking reveals just the opposite.
This study has been so distorted in the media and within anti death penalty literature that it really should be mandatory teaching in journalism schools as a fact checking disaster. I cannot find one example where the authors of the study ever corrected these distortions, thereby reflecting poorly on them, as well.
Prof. Cook, one of the authors, has a new study out, which claims an $11 million savings for NC, by ending the death penalty. I haven’t read it yet. Based upon the previous study, maybe it really finds the death penalty saves money.


4)  Cost Savings: The Death Penalty
A general review of some of the study problems and corrections for them.


5)  Maryland cost study: A reply
     See Dudley Sharp comments to article, after article at


6)  Colorado
     Cost, Deception & the Death Penalty: The Colorado Experience–the-death-penalty-the-colorado-experience.aspx


7)  New Jersey – See my reply to the official state review of costs, in the reply section, at bottom
     December 24, 2007 6:50 AM
    dudleysharp said…


8)  Kansas –  The study most quoted found that death penalty cases cost 70%, or about $500,000 more per median case cost than for the equivalent non death penalty murder case, but, the foundation was this: ” . . .there was nothing we could look at to verify the accuracy of any of the data assembled for this report.” (page 2). “Actual cost figures for death penalty and non death penalty cases in Kansas don’t exist.” (page 10).  On pages 29 and 31 the study discussed methods of saving money. Again, please refer to “Cost Savings: The Death Penalty”.  (“Performance Office Report: Costs Incurred for Death penalty Cases”, A K-Goal Audit of the Department of Corrections, by the Legislative Division of Post Audit – A Report to the Legislative Post Audit Committee, December 2003)


9) California – There are a few cost study numbers that are quoted, based, exclusively on analysis by anti death penalty folks. California considered a thorough, objective study by RAND, below, but rejected it. It was too expensive!
“Investigating the Costs of the Death Penalty in California: Insights for Future Data Collection in California, RAND Corp., 2/2008
Sincerely, Dudley Sharp
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

One thought on “Death Penalty Cost Studies: Saving Costs over LWOP

  • July 8, 2015 at 6:05 am

    Agatha Chrstie said it all. If one kills with intent, one needs to equivalently die. No lawyers, no appeals, just the end. Prisoners on Life Without Parole are generally klllers and they cost a ton of money to house, and why? When the evidence is totally clear, It’s stupid. These people are animals. Why should good people pay so they can live out life in a prison environment, and incurr the
    cost legal avenues? Sweat excaped from the prison in Dannamora. He was captured after 3 weeks of trying to find a way to stay on the lam. He is not yet 40. Now we pay for him to spend the rest of his life in a eell 23 hours a day, well fed, given basic needs, clean clothes and watched?. He killed a federal agent. He will do the attorney thing and the over and over appeal thing. WRONG! Inject him and it is done with! Easy. Much cheaper. He did the crime, forget the time, just save the dime.


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