Proposal Three: Economics of the Death Penalty

For my third proposal I would like to look at the economic side of capital punishment.  Instating the death penalty is a very costly process involving fees for trials, petitions, appeals, and incarceration among others.  Considering the already high expenses of the US prison system, this economic argument should have an important stake in decisions concerning the death penalty.  In California, the accumulated cost of the death penalty was totaled to be 4 billion since 1978.  This accumulated cost can be put into context with an estimated cost of 3 million dollars per death penalty case in Maryland (Urban Institute, 2008).  The majority of these costs occur at the trial level.  These statistics may beg the question “even though it is expensive, is it still cheaper than alternative methods?”  In fact studies from Duke University say that the death penalty costs North Carolina 2.16 million dollars over the cost of sentencing murderers to life in prison.  Florida’s death penalty costs over 51 million dollars more a year than it would cost to sentence all their murders to life in prison.

This brings us to the alternatives that avoid the costly expense of the death penalty.  Life without parole plus restitution has been found to be the most popular method of punishment for murder among voters (Lake Research Partners, 2010).  This surpasses the death penalty by a margin of 6 percent.  Others alternatives include life imprisonment with and without parole.

There are also high federal costs to implementing capital punishment.  It costs the federal government $620,932 to defend a federal death row case.  This number is approximately 8 times the cost of a federal murder case that is not pursuing the death penalty.

Overall the death penalty seems to be a heavy financial burden on states, the federal government, and individuals.  This money could be used to bolster our prison system, improve law enforcement, or put into our court system.  With our limited resources in mind, the economics of the death penalty can make us wonder if its really worth it.



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