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Study: States waste money on death penalty, the lowest crime-reduction priority for police chiefs

DPICAccording to a report the Death Penalty Information Center released last night:

States are wasting hundreds of millions of dollars on the death penalty, draining state budgets during the economic crisis and diverting funds from more effective anti-violence programs. A nationwide poll of police chiefs conducted by RT Strategies, released with the report, found that they ranked the death penalty last among their priorities for crime-fighting, do not believe the death penalty deters murder, and rate it as the least efficient use of limited taxpayer dollars.

Sounds like an easy fix for Kentucky’s politicians: abolish the death penalty and allocate the savings to hire more police officers.

CNN’s story on the report, “Study: States can’t afford death penalty,” has been the most-read article on its website today.

Read the rest of DPIC’s press release about its “Smart on Crime: Reconsidering the Death Penalty in a Time of Economic Crisis” report after the jump.

“With many states spending millions to retain the death penalty, while seldom or never carrying out an execution, the death penalty is turning into a very expensive form of life without parole. At a time of budget shortfalls, the death penalty cannot be exempt from reevaluation alongside other wasteful government programs that no longer make sense,” said Richard C. Dieter, Executive Director of the Death Penalty Information Center and the report’s author.

“The death penalty is a colossal waste of money that would be better spent putting more cops on the street. New Jersey threw away $250 million on the death penalty over 25 years with nothing to show for it. The death penalty isn’t a deterrent whatsoever. New Jersey’s murder rate has dropped since the state got rid of the death penalty. If other states abolished the death penalty, law enforcement wouldn’t miss it and the cost savings could be used on more effective crime-fighting programs,” said Police Chief James Abbott of West Orange, New Jersey. Abbott, a Republican, has served 29 years on the police force and was a member of the state commission that recommended the death penalty be abolished.

Key findings from the poll of police chiefs include:

  • The death penalty was ranked last when the police chiefs were asked to name one area as “most important for reducing violent crime,” with only one percent listing it as the best way to reduce violence. The death penalty came in behind more police officers; reducing drug abuse; better economy and more jobs; longer prison sentences; and technological innovations such as improved laboratories and crime databases.
  • The police chiefs ranked the death penalty as the least efficient use of taxpayers’ money. They rated expanded training and more equipment for police officers; hiring more police officers; community policing; more programs to control drug and alcohol abuse; and neighborhood watch programs as more efficient uses of taxpayers’ dollars.
  • Almost 6 in 10 police chiefs (57%) agreed that the death penalty does little to prevent violent crimes because perpetrators rarely consider the consequences when engaged in violence. Although the police chiefs did not oppose the death penalty in principle, less than half (47%) would support it if a sentence of life without parole with mandatory restitution to the victim’s family were available.

“We need to stop wasting money on a broken death penalty and instead spend our limited resources on solving more homicides. My brother’s murder has remained unsolved for more than six years. The death penalty won’t bring my brother back or help to apprehend his murderer. We need to start investing in programs that will actually improve public safety and get more killers off the streets,” said Judy Kerr of Albany, California.

The extra costs of the death penalty, beyond life sentences, are often $10 million per year per state. If a state spent that $10 million on hiring new police officers (or teachers) at $40,000 per year, it could afford to hire 250 additional workers.

California spends $137 million per year on the death penalty and has not had an execution in almost four years, even as the state pays its employees in IOUs and releases inmates early to address overcrowding and budget shortfalls. In Florida, where the courts have lost 10 percent of their funding, the state spends $51 million dollars per year on the death penalty or $24 million for each execution. Executions themselves are not expensive; it is the pursuit of the death penalty that carries a high price tag. The higher costs of the death penalty process — including the costs of higher security on death row — are unavoidable and likely to increase in light of all the mistakes that have been made in capital cases.

In 2009, 11 state legislatures (Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Texas and Washington) considered abolition bills. New Mexico abolished the death penalty and Maryland narrowed its application with costs as an issue in both states.

Both houses of the Connecticut legislature voted to end the death penalty and one house of the Montana and Colorado legislatures (where cost savings were to be allocated to solving cold cases) passed abolition bills. The trend of states reexamining the death penalty in light of the economic crisis is expected to continue.

The poll of 500 randomly-selected police chiefs was conducted from October 29 to November 14, 2008 by RT Strategies with a margin of error of +/- 5.1 for all elites. The results of the poll were publicly released for the first time today.

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4 Responses

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  1. Pauley says

    Kentuckians told University of Kentucky pollsters in December 2006 that they preferred long prison sentences over the death penalty. It often takes lawmakers too long to catch up with the thinking of their constituents. Maybe this report will help them.

  2. Tim says

    last time I checked, A bullet, was less then a meal in jail.

  3. Tim says

    The problem with the US, is that the whole country cares too much about feelings, don’t eat cows, they have feelings too, don’t eat salad, carrot juice is murder etc etc. We would rather spend billions of dollars to check for water on mars, while our children starve. Our Leader thinks the US runs on Credit, not production. If a general kneed or bowed to a Foreign leader that was a known enemy, he would be court marshaled within the week, Why do we allow the country leader to do the same.
    All the people that can’t hang and want to hold each other’s hands, and prey for the best planet on which to live on, can always move to another Country. Let them fail, lets not ruin our country so they can be happy when the majority of the country is unhappy.

  4. Zach Everson says

    That cost involves the appeals process required if the state is going to take a human life. Since 1973, 138 people have been freed from death row because of those appeals. Go straight to the bullet and those 138 innocent people would be dead. And I believe only eight of those exonerations were the result of DNA testing.

    Of course, even with those appeals, the government still ends up killing innocent people–like Texas did with Cameron Todd Willingham.

    Many U.S. states have governments that waste money on a death penalty systems that doesn’t deter crime, is more expensive than life in prison, executes innocent people, and prolongs the suffering of murder victims’ family members. That is a problem with the United States.



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