Death row’s high cost
It’s time to convert capital sentences to permanent imprisonment
Here’s a way Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger can save the state more than $1 billion over the next five years: Convert all 700 death sentences in California to permanent imprisonment.
The death-penalty system is clearly broken. For the past four years, executions have been on hold because of legal challenges to lethal injection. The courts are overburdened with death-penalty appeals, forcing other cases to wait years for hearing. The California Supreme Court spends almost one-third of its time on death-penalty cases. And, although California courts sent 29 people to death row last year, the state has executed only 13 people since 1967. That’s because it takes more than 25 years for a case to move through all the mandatory appeals—at tremendous taxpayer expense.
Then there is the growing evidence of the system’s fallibility. Last fall the American Law Institute—the brain trust of the legal community that created the intellectual framework for capital punishment—disavowed the structure it had created because, in effect, the capital-justice system was irretrievably broken and was a moral and practical failure.
Capital punishment, an institute study said, was systemically unfair, was “plagued by racial disparities; was enormously expensive even as many defense lawyers were underpaid and some were incompetent; risked executing innocent people; and was undermined by the politics that come with judicial elections,” as The New York Times reported.
It costs an extra $63 million a year to operate death row. The inmates’ taxpayer-paid legal costs are astronomical. And now the state is preparing to spend $400 million to build a new, expanded death row. None of it makes sense, especially when the state is facing a $20 billion budget deficit. The governor has said he wants to cut prison spending. Here’s one good way to do it.