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Capital punishment is far more expensive than life without parole

Californians protest capital punishment in Los Angeles, September 28, 2010.
Californians protest capital punishment in Los Angeles, September 28, 2010.
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

California's Proposition 34 aims to replace the state's death penalty with a sentence of life imprisonment without possibility of parole (LWOP).

Those California voters who are unmoved by moral, ethical, rational, empirical or constitutional arguments against capital punishment should at least consider the financial implications of the death penalty for California taxpayers in this difficult economy.

Contrary to what many people believe, imposing capital punishment is actually much more costly than imposing a life sentence.

A 2008 study found that, because of the expenses required to implement the death penalty--including pre-trial and trial costs, automatic appeals, state and federal Habeas Corpus petitions, and special incarceration outlays--California spends approximately $90,000 per year per inmate over and above what LWOP would cost.

As a result, a 2011 financial assessment concludes, capital punishment has cost the state of California over $4 billion since 1978.

Since only thirteen executions have actually been carried out during the past thirty-four years, that amounts to approximately $308 million per execution.

The authors of the 2011 study calculate that commuting all remaining California death row inmates' sentences to life in prison would achieve an immediate savings of $170 million to the state per year, eventually saving California taxpayers $5 billion over the next twenty years.

That's $5 billion that could be spent on, say, solving more crimes, improving California schools and infrastructure, hiring more firefighters, combating climate change, and tackling our budget deficit.

Given the exorbitant costs of capital punishment, and given that the vast majority of death row inmates will die of old age or other natural causes long before their mandatory appeals are exhausted anyway, how can we afford not to redirect our state resources toward programs that will actually help Californians?

In the name of fiscal responsibility, if for no other reason, Californians should approve Prop. 34 on November 6.


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