How Much Does Capital Punishment Cost

With so much to take into consideration in terms of ethics and religion, one issue often raises the public’s curiosity about the death sentence. And how much does capital punishment cost?

The Estimated Cost of Capital Punishment

The initial cost of death punishment is said to be double that of a standard life sentence. Let’s take a look to see if there’s truth to that.

In a previous study, a person with a 40-to-45-year life sentence would burden the taxpayers with a little over $1 million in terms of state prison costs. This was computed based on the approximate annual cost of maintaining an inmate in a maximum-security prison cell at around $25,000.

Capital punishment methods

Sometime in 2003 in Florida, the actual death punishment cost the state had spent was less than $1,000. The breakdown is as follows:

  • Executioner $150
  • Last meal $20
  • Suit for the burial $150
  • Undertaker and coffin $525

In terms of the drug being used for lethal injection, the cost has tremendously increased over the years. From $83.55 per dose in 2011, it was reported that the state of Virginia had paid $16,500 in 2016.

At first glance, you would probably scratch your head because the comparison is poles apart. It’s almost ridiculous. However, we have to consider all the events leading up to the actual execution in order to have some sort of a more parallel comparison.

Let’s take the case of Louisiana. In a report released in August 2019, it was stated that the state has spent over $200 million in the last 15 years (2008 to 2017) on maintaining its capital punishment system.

This translates to around $15.6 million per year, with the system covering an average of 80 murder arrests that are potential candidates for death row. However, 96% of these turn into non-capital trials.

These are mostly due to these suspects pleading to a lesser offense. Therefore, this leads to a lesser sentence, like a life sentence without the possibility of parole, instead of death punishment.

However, despite the 4% of remaining convicts being subjected to a capital punishment trial, the proceedings don’t usually get completed as swiftly as those who plead to a lesser offense.

You need to realize that since the death sentence cannot be reversed once executed, the legal system in the U.S. allows convicted criminals to appeal. This process could take years, which prolongs the imprisonment and maintenance of these prisoners until the final verdict.

With the exorbitant budget being spent, this only resulted in a single execution in the span of one and a half decades, and this was actually a case of the defendant volunteering for execution. Pretty expensive, right?

Other Things That Go With The Cost

Besides the court sentence cost and the actual execution expenditures, these are some other things that the state must also pay for:

  • Wages of the personnel – these include the salaries of every staff member in the prison that is directly connected to the death row inmates.
  • Doctors in attendance – physicians are also required to be present when the execution is being carried out. They usually charge around 3 to 5 hours’ worth of professional fees.
  • Counselling for the staff – prison executioners and anyone who was present to witness the execution of the death sentence may face different levels of anxiety. This is particularly true in the case of prison guards who might have developed empathy toward death-row inmates.
  • Travel costs – these are also included in the execution cost since the event is not typically included in the personnel’s usual line of work. Like, how many times do you get to execute a person in a year?
  • Goods and services for the media – since the execution of the death penalty is most likely the talk of the town, news/media coverage are something you cannot escape altogether. There might be some media interviews in between, whether on the convict, the jury, or attorneys. However, in the case of a person on death row, they should give permission first for the interview or coverage to be allowed.

Why Does Capital Punishment Cost So Much?

The truth is that the most significant part of the overall cost happens before and during the trial, not the actual execution. In fact, even when you eliminate the possible appeals or the post-conviction trials, capital punishment would still be more costly than the second-worst sentence.

So what makes the death penalty so exorbitant? The following comprise how much does it cost to execute a prisoner:

  • Trials

The most expensive part of these cases was the appointment of the most qualified lawyer experts, both pre- and post-trial case filings from both the prosecution and the defense. If the prosecution is seeking capital punishment, there will be two phases: conviction and sentencing.

  • Defense

More often than not, people who are potentially facing death conviction may have been outcasts from society and even alienated or estranged from their families. As a consequence, they may not be able to afford an attorney. If this is the case, the state must provide a court-appointed attorney or public defender so that they can have a fair trial.

  • Jury selection

Because the decision after the court proceedings would be a matter of life and death for the defendant, it is crucial to be able to select jurors who know their law well and will be able to assess the case with the utmost fairness. Because these jurors are deemed more special, the selection process is more expensive due to their expertise and, of course, more time-consuming.

  • Investigation

Investigative expenditures are costly, whatever the case you may have at hand. However, it is particularly more expensive when you are seeking a death sentence as a prosecutor.

  • Retrial

Taxpayers will be the ones to shoulder the expenses pertaining to pretrial and actual trial proceedings when the seeking of the prosecutors for the death verdict fails or results in a lesser sentence. Most often, retrials result in a life sentence, and when a death verdict is appealed, a reversal is also a possibility.

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