What does it cost with lifelong fitness

The execution costs more than life imprisonment

For Leonard Kidd, the time of fear began again last week. The arsonist, who had only nine children and one adult on his conscience and later stabbed four more people, might escape his double death sentence. Because Kidd is considered mentally retarded, the confession of his co-accused half-brother in the knife case was extorted by force by the police, and Kidd is on death row in the state of Illinois with 141 other colleagues, whose death sentences are now being reviewed again. The hearings that were scheduled after the said torture cases by the police and thirteen wrongful convictions that were determined will continue until next week. Then Republican Governor George Ryan will decide what to do. Decide whether the 142 death sentences will be commuted to life imprisonment because the overall system has proven to be too flawed. And decide what measures need to be taken to make the death penalty safer in the future. But that makes it one thing above all: even more expensive.

Richard Dieter, Director of the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) in Washington, knows the irritated reactions when it comes to the subject of money and the death penalty. The question about life and death as a cost-benefit analysis? Isn't it about higher things, about guilt and atonement, justice and morality? But for Dieter, whose organization is fighting against the death penalty, one thing is certain: "The costs are of very central importance for the debate, because they bring together all aspects of the death penalty."

Since the reintroduction of the death penalty in the US in 1976, 805 people have been executed to date. This year there were already 56. Since the economic boom in 1999, in which 98 people were executed, the number of executions has fallen. Aside from the police scandals and the miscarriage of justice debate, there is another reason: it is the economic downturn. And it is the ever increasing costs that result from a death sentence. There are, according to Dieter, "no abstract cost calculations about the death penalty - it just depends on which death penalty you want." But the Americans, who are generally 72 percent in favor of the death penalty, are clearly demanding a "safe" death penalty - innocent convicts like those in Illinois or the postal worker Ray Krone from Arizona, who was only recently released after ten years on death row, are not allowed. In the USA, Krone was the hundredth death row inmate to be released from prison, and he was the twelfth whose innocence was proven with the help of a DNA test.

What is proof of fallibility for the opponents of the death penalty is proof of the functioning of the system for its supporters: innocent people are not executed precisely because there are countless appeals, appeals for clemency, procedural rules and now also the costly DNA evidence. Pressures to make the system more secure in order to preserve the death penalty are increasing costs in the same way. The most recent example: the judgments of two courts against the 1994 Bill Clinton federal death penalty, which, in the view of the judges, does not sufficiently take into account the rights of the accused. But even today, according to a government study, the cost of defense in death penalty cases is four times higher than normal cases.

Numerous studies from the individual states show how dearly the state can get the right to kill. The result was unanimous: the death penalty costs the state more than life imprisonment without any possibility of parole. For example, North Carolina Duke University found that the average cost of a death penalty case is $ 2.16 million more than a normal felony trial. The state of California could save $ 90 million a year by abolishing the death penalty, according to information from the DPIC. In Texas, the average cost of a death penalty case is estimated at $ 2.3 million. That is three times the sum a 40-year prison sentence would cost the state in a high-security cell. In Florida, the average cost per execution is $ 3.2 million. From 1973 to 1988, an estimated $ 57 million was spent on 18 executions.

The reasons why the death penalty is so expensive in comparison are, in addition to the exorbitant procedural costs with all the experts and the complicated selection of the jury, above all the many trials in the first instance, which comparatively rarely lead to executions. According to the Duke study, only 10 percent of the trials end in executions. And Columbia University Professor James Liebman has only found a five percent execution rate. In over 90 percent of the cases, the state pays both: the immense costs of a death penalty trial and the costs of up to life imprisonment. Consequence: The death penalty can be afforded less and less in bad times.

"There are things that a modern American city and state must have. Police and fire departments are part of it, and a criminal justice system. The death penalty is not one of them. It is a kind of luxury item in the criminal justice system. An addition, a possible option when you use your criminal justice vehicle buy, "says Vincent Perini, head of the Texas Bar Association. Dieter from the DPIC accordingly expects that the death penalty will soon only be applied for so easily in the wealthier administrative districts. Poorer districts are more likely to target life imprisonment. In Illinois, where the death penalty does not pass the efficiency test of possibly 142 overturned death sentences, the appointed commission has already proposed before the hearings that the number of crimes that can be punished in this way be reduced from 20 to five. Until such regulations also come about in other states, it is still said for some districts that only a single death penalty case with the effect of a natural disaster can strike them. The only way out: taxes up or benefits down.

There are already examples of this: The Texas community of Jasper had to raise property taxes in order to be able to open a single death penalty trial. In one administrative district of Washington, public employees had to wait for their wages to be raised, which was then even less than expected because of a single trial. And recently, an Ohio judge banned prosecutors from applying for the death penalty because they had no money to defend themselves properly.

In the end, because of the death penalty, there is actually a lack of money for crime prevention. An example calculation: New Jersey passed a death penalty law that cost the state $ 16 million annually. At the same time, 500 police positions were cut, which with this sum could have received an annual salary of $ 30,000 per capita.