California, which currently has 678 death row inmates, has the nation's largest death row population, yet the state has not executed anyone in four years.
California spends more than $130 million a year on its capital punishment system -- housing and prosecuting inmates and coping with an appellate system that has kept some convicted killers waiting for an execution date since the late 1970s.
A new report concludes that states are wasting millions on an inefficient death penalty system, diverting scarce funds from other anti-crime and law enforcement programs.
"Thirty-five states still retain the death penalty, but fewer and fewer executions are taking place every year," said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. "But the overall death row population has remained relatively steady. At a time of budget shortfalls nationwide, the death penalty is turning into an expensive form of life without parole."
A privately conducted poll of 500 police chiefs released with the report found the death penalty ranked last among their priorities for reducing violent crime. Only 1 percent found it to the best way to achieve that goal. Adding police officers ranked first.
The Death Penalty Information Center study found that death penalty costs can average $10 million more per year per state than life sentences. Increased costs include higher security needs and guaranteed access to an often lengthy pardon and appellate process.
Florida, where two men have been put to death this year, spends an average of $24 million per execution. That average has remained consistent since 2005, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
Having the death penalty can offer powerful incentives in plea bargaining, Scheidegger said, and could provide states with large savings in trial and incarceration costs.
A philsophical debate, one that cannot easily be answered, emerges. Should the state spend so much money on an individual who has already been convicted and the only issue left to determine is the punishment? Should this money be implemented this way at the expense of spending money on law enforcement to meet future enforcement needs? Should there be a cap on litigation concerning death penalty cases? All these questions are not easily answered and states vary on this issue. It is interesting to note that it is cheaper to keep an inmate in prison the rest of his or her life than to execute them. From a personal stand point, wouldn’t it be a bigger punishment to keep a person in prison for life than to put the person out of their misery.