The Cost of Death


One issue that is deeply dividing the state of California, is that of the legality and ethics surrounding the death penalty sentence. While much of the debate focuses on whether or not it is ethically up to us, as a society, to end a person’s life, or the amount of wrongful executions that have taken place in the past, the argument inevitably comes down to a price tag. While this is its own ethical conundrum in and of itself, many who are for the death penalty feel that taxpayers should not have to pay to keep people imprisoned for life. This ideology, my ideology, focused around the incorrect, albeit rational, theory that it would cost more to keep someone alive for the rest of their life, than it would to kill them.

Although there exists corruption and unfair punishment for petty crimes, although DNA evidence has seen many innocent people’s sentences reversed, although I accept all of this as true, it is my belief that those who are guilty beyond any doubt, who have been caught and have confessed to committing the most heinous crimes, and those of whom would never see freedom again, should be sentenced to death.

It’s not that I’m out for some sort of retribution or payback against the killer, but rather a lack of understanding for why taxpayers should have to pay millions of dollars every year to keep these prisoners alive.

As I started researching this more, I was surprised to find out the actual cost of the death penalty. Despite its seemingly straightforward nature, it actually costs more to kill someone than to keep them alive for the rest of their life. In fact, it’s almost ten times more expensive. According to the California Commission for the Fair Administration of Justice in 2008, California’s current system spends $137 million per year; it would cost $11.5 million for a system without the death penalty. Californians aren’t alone, either. In fact, some estimate that it costs U.S. taxpayers between $50 and $90 million dollars more per year to prosecute death penalty cases than life sentences.

According to HG Legal Resources, the reason for these incredibly high costs is due to a number of things. Firstly, in California, the slowest state in the nation for sentences, the average prisoner sentenced to death spends 20 years in jail between conviction and execution; the national average being just under nine years. During this time, the legal process doesn’t stop.

The appeals process requires hours of labor, not only by court staff, but also by court-appointed and taxpayer-funded public defenders, which are constitutionally guaranteed. Death penalty cases also require additional lawyers, many of which come with a certain level of experience, and a higher price tag as well. In addition to this, death penalty trials also require additional security, both in the courtroom and in the prisons where inmates are usually housed separately from others.

While I still believe that keeping these inmates alive for the rest of their lives is a waste of taxpayer money, it would seem that, with the way things are now, it is more ineffective to spend ten times as much money to kill these inmates. Until we can find an effective way to lower the cost of these convictions, I can’t support the death penalty sentence.