Death row costs

The reports out of Ohio about the botched execution of Romell Broom—after two hours of failing to find a vein, executioners gave up trying to kill him—only add to the arguments against continuing this barbaric practice.

And what about innocent people who are executed? DNA has established the innocence of 244 inmates, including 17 on death row. And a recent article in The New Yorker offers chilling evidence that in 2004, the state of Texas executed Cameron Todd Willingham for starting the fire that killed his three young daughters, when in fact he’d had nothing to do with it. Is our desire for revenge worth the loss of innocent lives?

Let’s look at a pragmatic reason for getting rid of the death penalty: We can’t afford it. According to a 2008 state report, the cost of a murder trial goes up $500,000 if prosecutors seek the death penalty. Death row costs $90,000 per year above the cost for a mainline prisoner, and appeals add tens of thousands more. Meanwhile, The New York Times recently reported that the state of California has managed to spend something like $250 million per person on the 13 people it has executed since 1976.

Does this make sense at a time when we’re cutting the very services that might prevent crime? If lawmakers can’t find the moral courage to end the death penalty, maybe they can do it to save money.