No death penalty, more cash

October 22, 2009
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Proponents of abolishing the death penalty have argued for years it costs more to sentence someone to death and execute them than it does to have that person sit in prison for life. A report released this week is taking advantage of the current economy to re-emphasize that point in hopes to getting states to end the death penalty.

The Death Penalty Information Center’s report, which included a poll of police chiefs around the country regarding their thoughts about the death penalty and crime, argues states can save hundreds of millions of dollars by getting rid of death sentences. The report may catch the attention of legislators because what state isn’t looking for extra cash right now?

Numerous groups opposed to the death penalty have cited the extra costs associated with that sentence because investigations have to be more thorough, trials can take longer or be delayed, and often the death sentences are appealed. If a state can really save around $10 million or more, as the report claims by abolishing the death penalty, that’s money that can be put toward expanding jails, putting more police on the streets, or creating more crime-deterrant programs.

A study in California last year revealed the state spends nearly $140 million a year on the death penalty and hasn’t put anyone to death in four years. Florida spends $51 million a year on the death penalty. A study of New Jersey found it spent more than $250 million on the death penalty since 1983.

You may ask, what does a poll of police chiefs have to do with the death penalty? According to the DPIC’s report, most police chiefs ranked the death penalty last when asked to name one area as most important for reducing violent crime. The police chiefs also ranked the death penalty as the least efficient use of taxpayers’ money. They believe hiring more officers, community policing, neighborhood watch programs, and other methods would be more efficient uses of tax dollars.

Is the thought of saving millions of dollars going to be enough to convince states that executions should be ended? If that angle didn’t work before the economy tanked, is it the best argument death penalty opponents have right now?

You can view the report at http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org.
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