WASHINGTON — Even when executions are not carried out, the death penalty costs US states hundreds of millions of dollars a year, depleting budgets in the midst of economic crisis, a study released Tuesday found.
“It is doubtful in today’s economic climate that any legislature would introduce the death penalty if faced with the reality that each execution would cost taxpayers 25 million dollars, or that the state might spend more than 100 million dollars over several years and produce few or no executions,” argued Richard Dieter, director of the Death Penalty Information Center and the report’s author.
“Surely there are more pressing needs deserving funding,” he wrote, noting that execution was rated among the least effective crime deterrents.
In just one death penalty trial “the state may pay one million dollars more than for a non-death penalty trial. But only one in every three capital trials may result in a death sentence, so the true cost of that death sentence is three million dollars,” the study’s author said.
“Further down the road, only one in ten of the death sentences handed down may result in an execution. Hence, the cost to the state to reach that one execution is 30 million dollars,” Dieter added in the report entitled “Smart on Crime.”
The center’s goal of ending executions may still be an uphill battle.
The report comes just a week after a new poll found that 65 percent of Americans still favor the death penalty.
Legal in 35 of the 50 US states and used regularly in about 12 or so, the death penalty has been reconsidered recently in 11 states, largely because of the high costs associated with its use.
Colorado came close to eliminating execution but New Mexico was the only state to abolish it, in March.
“There is no reason the death penalty should be immune from reconsideration, along with other wasteful, expensive programs that no longer make sense,” Dieter stressed, noting that most US states that pay to maintain a system to execute inmates have in the past three decades put to death only a handful of convicted criminals.
“The same states that are spending millions of dollars on the death penalty are facing severe cutbacks in other justice areas. Courts are open less, trials are delayed, and even police are being furloughed,” Dieter said.
In Pennsylvania, 200 police posts sit unfilled, and in New Hampshire trials were put on hold for a month to save money.
Dieter says that keeping execution while reducing its costs is not realistic. If less money is spent on appeals, he argues, the risk of executing an innocent person will increase.
He said that ultimately, execution does not deter crime as its supporters hope. Capital punishment has been abolished in most western democracies, and after it was eliminated in the US state of New Jersey in 2007, the state saw its murder rate decline.
Dieter cites a poll of 500 local police chiefs, which was paid for by the DPIC and released on Tuesday, showing support for ending capital punishment.
The survey found that the police chiefs see the death penalty as the least effective tool in deterring crime. They suggest more efficient use of resources — such as boosting funding for drug and alcohol abuse programs.