Cost Alone

This week I am going to discuss the death penalty with more of a statistical approach, and by doing so hope to answer the following question: in a country that is drowning in debt, is the death penalty an economically sustainable option?

According to the NC coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, based on a 2010 Duke University study,

“On average, defending a capital case costs four times as much as a first-degree murder trial in which the defendant faces a maximum of life imprisonment.”

The large amount of money needed for an execution comes from an extensive appeals process, and the time and money that accompany a capital trial. This study focused on many aspects of the costs, including the finding that about $11 million of taxpayer money would be saved each year by the state of North Carolina with lifetime imprisonment of capital offenders instead of their death.

It is interesting to note as well that this study focused on the years between 2006 and 2009, and between 2007 and 2008 there were no executions performed in the state of North Carolina, suggesting that this amount of money may be even higher in years that executions did actually occur.

A different publication by the Santa Clara University came to similar conclusions, when it stated,

“executing a single capital case costs about three times as much as it costs to keep a person in prison for their remaining life expectancy, which is about 40 years.”

What do you guys think about this? Does the monetary effect of this ethical issue hold any weight? Do you think that the death penalty can be justified as economically sustainable?


6 thoughts on “Cost Alone”

  1. This is a great statistical article supporting one of the few points on why capital punishment shouldn’t even be considered an option. I believe strongly in the title of your post in that cost alone should reduce the number of states that abide by the death penalty. The Duke University study was shocking, I knew it was high, not that high. I would love to keep seeing statistics and facts in your posts, they are very informative and have many good view points. I was wondering, even though the study was done on 2010 and a lot of the information on your blog focused on years prior, if you know if anything has changed since then? If it has increased in price or maybe decreased? But great job overall, I am enjoying your Blog.


    1. Hey cfranco008,
      Thank you for your comments and recommendations, they are definitely appreciated. It definitely is interesting that it is able to argue against capital punishment purely based on an economic standpoint.
      As to your question about the costs of the death penalty now compared to in 2010, I honestly can say that I am not entirely sure. However, since the “procedure” of trial, prison time, and ultimately an execution have not changed from that period until now, I would guess that the numbers today would be slightly larger, due to the increased amount of people actually sentenced to death since 2010, compared to the realtively few people sentenced during that 4 year period.
      I hope that explanation makes sense, but I am definitely going to look into your question to confirm that that is the case. If there are any discrepancies, I will make sure to acknowledge it in a future post.


  2. Wow interesting post! I definitely do not agree with the death penalty, largely because of where I stand morally in regards to the issue. I have a question though: why is the appeals process so expensive? I don’t have extensive legal knowledge, but it seems that an inmate sends a letter to a court or judge to request that their sentence be altered or reduced. Are there other steps involved in this process that raise the price substantially? Additionally, I would like to know what you think about choice when it comes to the death penalty. Although this option does not exist in our legal system, I definitely believe it should be offered because of the weight of spending a lifetime in prison or facing death. If criminals convicted of capital offenses were given a choice between life and prison and the death penalty for their sentence, would the extra costs be justifiable or should one or the other be imposed on them?


  3. JD,

    Thank you so much for your commentary and feedback! I appreciate it, especially since the questions you pose are very thought-provoking. Honestly, I can’t say I have the answers, but your thoughts might help direct me in the writing of my future posts.
    To address your first question, the appeals process is so expensive because of the severity of capital punishment. Appeals are not just written letters, but actually include attorneys to make the appeals to a judge. This procedure is not always simple, because the case can keep being put off into different hands until a decision is finally reached. Additionally, there are a lot more complex procedures that need to be followed with cases of higher severity. Once the capital case is finally brought to trial, defense costs are much higher than non-capital cases.
    As for your second question, I think that costs should not be a factor in this decision, rather, a consensus would need to be reached by the public. I don’t know how many people would choose the death penalty over life in prison, but it is possible that this number is large. I cannot say that I know the right answer, although my feeling would be to say that a life should be protected, no matter what.


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