Friday, July 11, 2008

Death Penalty

Putting aside the legal issues, lets discuss some of the other issues that surround capital punishment. Some of the arguments for the death penalty over life imprisonment include deterrence and the financial burden on the sate to prosecute and imprison.

I like the deterrence, as opposed to the more philosophical arguments, because it makes a specific claim which can be studied and published in hard numbers. What do the studies show? The answer is mixed. There is a collection of peer reviewed studies available at

I hoped to find a clear trend one way of another. After spending a few hours reading abstracts I found that most of the research, statistics, and interpretation of data is in dispute. I would encourage people to go look at the papers, how they collected their data and the measures used.

Here is my opinion after 12 years of locking people up. With a few exceptions of homeless people who would commit crimes before winter storms in order to get guarantied shelter, I never arrested anyone who expected to get caught.

Ask your self about your own driving habits. Do you make an estimate of the amount of a fine and points you can afford. Most likely you answered “No, I drive what I feel is a safe speed and I besides, I probably won’t get pulled over.” The hundreds of people I have arrested over the years don’t plan on getting a ticket or arrested. This includes the people I have arrested for homicide. They are consistently shocked that they are being cuffed.

There are two ways at looking at the financial issues. One is that I, as a taxpayer, don’t want to fund the room and board of a murder for the rest of his natural life. This is going to be a long time considering that most murders are committed by suspects who are in their late teens to 20s. The average life span of the American male is currently 73 years. The average cost of housing a prisoner is $88 per day. That is a little over 32,00 per year. This doesn’t factor in the additional cost of being in a maximum security prison.

The other way to view the financial impact of the death penalty is in the increased cost of the prosecution and appeals. The following figures compare the cost increase from a life with out parole trial to a death penalty case. Kansas 16 times more, Tennessee 48% increase, North Carolina spent 2.16 million more per case. Indiana reported at 38% increase in cost. Consider this when 20% of Indiana’s death penalty convictions are overturned. Many of the financial figures of a death penalty case can be viewed at

After all the facts and figures, here is my take on the financial issue. The cost should not be an issue when we are deciding to take a life. Whether you are for or against the death penalty, I think that from a moral position we could agree that if capital punishment is wrong, it is wrong regardless of the cost of life in prison. If we are going to exercise capital punishment, it should not be taken lightly and the burden on the state should be enormous.

More to come next week. As always comments are always welcome.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What really troubles me is how much money matters before anyone is sentenced. The ability to pay for a good defense certainly affects the outcome in death penalty cases.

How many on death row are wealthy? How many on death row are not?