Sunday, December 12, 2010

Cost: Is it a Legitimate Death Penalty Issue

A story posted on the ABC News web site questions whether the cost of the death penalty justifies it imposition. The death penalty is used sparingly in this country. Forty-five men and woman have been executed this year in the U.S. There is only one other execution scheduled before the end of the year. Therefore, there will be fewer execution this year than last.

According to ABC, California has a $25 billion deficit and almost 700 inmates on death row. According to a 2008 report issued by the California Commission for the Fair Administration of Justice, maintaining the criminal justice system costs $137 million per year, but the cost would drop to $11.5 million if it weren't for the death penalty. A 2010 study from the Northern California chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union found that California would be forced to spend $1 billion on the death penalty in the next five years if the state does not replace capital punishment with permanent imprisonment. How much will life without parole cost? California is not going to release the 700 killers on death row.

California is not the only state where cost has become an argument for abolishing the death penalty. New Hampshire refused to expand the death penalty and Illinois is one vote from abolishing the death penalty. New Mexico abolished the death penalty a year ago, though they have an execution scheduled for January. New Jersey and New York have also recently abolished the death penalty.

Maryland's governor wanted to abolish the death penalty. In 2008, an Urban Institute study of Maryland found that a death penalty trial costs $1.9 million more than a nondeath penalty trial. The study also estimated that the state's taxpayers had paid at least $37.2 million for each of the five executions the state had carried out since 1978, reported ABC.

Each state with the death penalty must acknowledge that if the the death penalty would disappear there are still costs involved in incarcerating killers. The cost of life in prison without the possibility of parole is expensive and don't be fooled, lifers will file appeals for the full 50, 60 or 70 years they spend in prison.

According to ABC, a Georgia study conducted by the National Institute of Corrections in 2004 found that the state's aging inmate population cost three times that of a younger inmate population in health care costs.

"Life in prison is more expensive than the death penalty when you're paying for health care for aging life-with-parolers," Diane Clemence, spokeswoman for Texas pro-death penalty group Justice for All, told ABC. Clemence said death row inmates wouldn't cost states as much, since they shouldn't be staying in the prisons into old age.

An enormous cost associated with the death penalty is the delay between conviction and execution. That delay can be attributed in large part to the persistent legal actions filed to review issues that have been decided. At times these actions are merely frivolous requests intended for delay.

There is no question that capital punishment is a moral issue. Some people believe that the state should not be involved in taking the life of a human being, even if that person is a killer. That is a legitimate position, and aa issue that should be part of the public debate.

However, should citizens be flipping the bill to decide if sodium thiopental, one of the execution drugs, obtained from the U.K. is any less appropriate for executions than sodium thiopental manufactured in the U.S. That is a what drives up the cost of executions and plays no legitimate role in the process.

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