Friday, January 8, 2010

ACLU Post on Death Penalty Costs

Tying in some loose ends from the ALI retreat from supporting the death penalty and from the Governor's "State of the State" address, the ACLU blog posts today about the potential of cutting correctional costs by abolishing the death penalty.

Housing for just one person on death row costs $90,000 more per year than housing in the general prison population (itself a hefty $50,000 a year). That means we are now paying an extra $63 million a year for death row housing. If the governor acted right now to convert all death sentences to permanent imprisonment, he could cut that much from the corrections’ budget today. Plus, we wouldn’t have to spend $400 million to build a new, expanded death row. And we would save millions more in legal fees.


Anonymous said...

Moral considerations aside (my favorite phrase), one aspect missing from the cost-benefit analysis here is the discussion of whether the death penalty is effective. There has been no evidence that I'm aware of that the death penalty actually reduces homicide rates. So if you couple the fact that the death penalty is ineffective at what it aims to achieve with its high cost, I think you have a pretty strong argument for the end of the death penalty.

I think we should also take this discussion a step further, and say, if we have $400 million to spend on murder-prevention (a la expanded death row), there are better ways to spend it. A 1997 study concluded that education behind bars reduced recidivism by 29% - a fantastic success given the volume of inmates. Applied in terms of pell grants and other expanded opportunities, we could do more to reduce crime and murder rates by expanded educational opportunities.

Hadar Aviram said...

The efficacy of the death penalty as a deterrent measure is actually hotly debated. The latest on this debate, as far as I know, happened in 2008, at the Empirical Legal Studies conference. Dave Hoffman summarized the debate as follows:

As I commented there, there are so many ideological bones of contention, that it's hard to see where methodology ends and politics begin. Most scholarship I know argues that the death penalty has no deterrent effect.