Numerous studies conducted in various states have concluded again and again that the death penalty is more expensive than alternative sentences.
For example, a 2015 study showed that in Washington death penalty cases cost an average of $1 million more to prosecute than comparable cases where the death penalty is not sought. A 2012 study showed that death penalty has cost California more than $4 billion since 1978, and suggested that commuting all the state's death sentences to life imprisonment would immediately result in $170 million in savings per year. In Kansas, death penalty cases studied between 2004-2011 cost around four times more than cases where the death penalty was not sought. States could save millions of dollars a year by eliminating the death penalty.1
And although the majority of the United States' death penalty cases are in 2% of the country's counties, the costs of those cases are shifted on to the majority of our taxpayers. For more information on the disproportionate costs of the death penalty, read here
Beyond the dollars and cents, however, there are other costs to choosing the death penalty — costs to society — which must be considered when analyzing the true price of capital punishment.
The Death Penalty Diverts Resources from Proven Solutions to Crime and Violence
State programs that successfully address the underlying, contributing factors to crime and violence already exist, but they do not receive sufficient resources. By redirecting death penalty dollars in a careful and targeted way, we can reduce crime, improve our communities and save money.
Early Childhood Education
Evidence-based research suggests that children who receive early education are less likely to become criminals, which not only benefits society, but also saves the state money.
Increasing High School Graduation Rates
Programs that target at-risk youth and expand the numbers of high school graduates help to reduce crime.
Education-related and community-based programs help prevent at-risk youth from joining gangs.2
Mental Health Services
Studies of programs that provide mental health services for juveniles in Texas, Utah, and Colorado have all proven that “individuals who receive mental health treatment have a much lower probability of being arrested” and have a lower rate of recidivism.3
Drug and Alcohol Treatment Services
By increasing the number of people sent to substance abuse treatment programs, states have successfully reduced violent crime, incarceration, and recidivism.4
The Death Penalty Prohibits States from Providing Adequate Support to Victims and Their Families
Funding for the death penalty could be redirected to support expanded services for victims and their families, including grief counseling, funeral costs, school tuition scholarships or grants for children of murdered parents, paid leave from work to attend court proceedings, crime scene cleanup5, emergency funds6, and medical treatment.7 Read more about victims and the death penalty.
The Death Penalty Harms Others
Ron McAndrew, a former warden on Florida’s death row, has said, “Many colleagues turned to drugs and alcohol from the pain of knowing a man died at their hands.” Some have even committed suicide.8 Read more about the harm to prison workers.
Of course the death penalty also harms the loved ones of those people sentenced to death. For more on the experience of losing a family member to the death penalty, watch Herb Donaldson's Tedx Talk, "How to Survive an Execution."
As long as the death penalty is on the books, it will continue to siphon scarce public resources from programs that can strengthen our communities and prevent crime in the first place.
If you agree that our communities should not bear the burden of this expensive and wasteful policy, visit TAKE ACTION to support the National Coalition in its efforts abolish the death penalty in your state and across the country.
2 Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice Harvard Law School, “Eleven Million Points of Light: How Abolition of the Death Penalty in North Carolina Could Improve Public Safety, Increase Opportunities, and Build Prosperity.” A Policy Brief. April 30, 2010.
3 Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice Harvard Law School, “Eleven Million Points of Light: How Abolition of the Death Penalty in North Carolina Could Improve Public Safety, Increase Opportunities, and Build Prosperity.” A Policy Brief. April 30, 2010