Conservative Commentator: Facing Coronavirus Budget Shortfalls, States Should Cut the Death Penalty

Conservative commentator Drew Johnson (pictured) has a suggestion for states whose budgets have been gutted by declining tax revenue and rising costs related to the coronavirus pandemic: end the death penalty.

In an April 23, 2020 op-ed for conservative news outlet Townhall, Johnson writes, “As state policymakers put programs on the chopping block in an attempt to balance budgets, there’s one failed policy that should be first to go: the death penalty.”

Johnson, a Senior Scholar at the National Center for Public Policy Research, a Senior Fellow at the Taxpayers Protection Alliance, and a member of Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, supports his argument with a litany of studies on the high cost of capital punishment. He points to research from seven states, all of which would save millions of dollars by repealing the death penalty. “On average, throughout America, a death row inmate costs $1.12 million more than a general population inmate, according to a study by Susquehanna University. With 2,620 people currently on death row in America, $2.9 billion dollars could’ve been saved if those inmates had all been sentenced to life in prison without parole rather than to death,” Johnson explains.

The death penalty should be a prime candidate for government cuts, Johnson maintains, because “it provides absolutely no benefit. It doesn’t deter crimes or protect the public, and it even puts the lives of innocent people at risk.” Citing a 2012 National Research Council review, he says, “there is no credible evidence that the death penalty deters murder.” Moving to the issue of innocence, he writes, “Wasting tax dollars and failing to protect the public isn’t even the worst of it. The most troubling single aspect of the death penalty is how often states get it wrong. More than 160 Americans have been released from death row due to wrongful convictions.”

“With state budgets drowning in the red, there’s no excuse for policymakers to ignore public sentiment and continue defending the pricey death penalty,” Johnson concludes. “The money saved by killing the death penalty could be redirected to compensate victims’ families, used to improve policing or mental health programs in order to help prevent violent crime, or simply put towards funding coronavirus-related budget shortfalls. Any option is more reasonable than wasting millions more tax dollars on an expensive, unpopular, failed public policy.”