March 30, 2009
Death penalty costly — in dollars and ethics
Cal Brown’s reprieve from death row two weeks ago presents an opportunity to re-evaluate the value of the death penalty in Washington state. We can understand a desire for justice to be served, but on balance, capital punishment does not deliver.States across the country are examining their death penalty with an eye toward the budget. The costs in death penalty cases are often paid entirely by the state. Taxpayers pay for the prosecution, public defenders and the court system.
The Washington Bar Association released a study in 2007 concluding that while the costs are difficult to quantify, death penalty cases cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars more than trying the same case without the death penalty.
The study noted that the reduction in costs would allow prosecutors to work on other cases. It would also allow county and state funds spent on defense to be used for other services. In Colorado, for example, there’s a bill that would take the money spent on death penalty cases and use it to help resolve unsolved cases.
Studies in Kansas, Tennessee, Maryland, New Mexico and California show that death penalty cases cost significantly more than comparable non-death penalty cases. California’s study found that the current system costs taxpayers $137 million per year, where a system without a death penalty would cost $11.5 million a year. Maryland found death penalty cases are three times more costly.
Some in favor of the death penalty say it gives the victims closure. Cal Brown committed his crime in 1991 and was sentenced in 1994. Had he been sentenced to life without parole, the case would have been over 14 years ago. That would have been closure.
There are human costs, as well. We, the citizenry, ask state employees to strap a man to a gurney from which he won’t rise. We ask someone to stand by and hear his last words. Ultimately, we ask one of our state employees to kill another person on our behalf.
We believe the law authorizing the death penalty should be revisited at least every decade — beginning now.