Policy Issues

Costs

Studies consistently find that the death penalty is more expensive than alternative punishments.

DPIC Report: The 2% Death Penalty

DPIC Report: The 2% Death Penalty

How a Minority of Counties Produce Most Death Cases at Enormous Costs to All

DPIC Report: Smart on Crime

DPIC Report: Smart on Crime

Reconsidering the Death Penalty in a Time of Economic Crisis

Overview

The death penalty is a moral issue for some and a policy issue for others. However, it is also a government program with related costs and possible benefits. Many people assume that the state saves money by employing the death penalty since an executed person no longer requires confinement, health care, and related expenses. But in the modern application of capital punishment, that assumption has been proven wrong.

The death penalty is far more expensive than a system utilizing life-without-parole sentences as an alternative punishment. Some of the reasons for the high cost of the death penalty are the longer trials and appeals required when a person’s life is on the line, the need for more lawyers and experts on both sides of the case, and the relative rarity of executions. Most cases in which the death penalty is sought do not end up with the death penalty being imposed. And once a death sentence is imposed, the most likely outcome of the case is that the conviction or death sentence will be overturned in the courts. Most defendants who are sentenced to death essentially end up spending life in prison, but at a highly inflated cost because the death penalty was involved in the process.

The Issue

How much the death penalty actually costs and how that compares to a system in which a life sentence is the maximum punishment can only be determined by sophisticated studies, usually at the state level. Many such studies have been conducted and their conclusions are consistent: the death penalty imposes a net cost on the taxpayers compared to life without parole. The question is whether the assumed benefits of the death penalty are worth its costs and whether other systems might provide similar benefits at less cost. The assessments of law enforcement experts are particularly relevant in identifying what expenditures are most effective in reducing crime.

What DPIC Offers

This section contains summaries of each of the main cost studies on the death penalty and links to many of the entire studies. In addition, DPIC has prepared a number of reports that relate to the question of costs and to the opinions of police chiefs and other experts in this field.


Why is the death penalty so expensive?

  • Legal costs: Almost all people who face the death penalty cannot afford their own attorney. The state must assign public defenders or court-appointed lawyers to represent them (the accepted practice is to assign two lawyers), and pay for the costs of the prosecution as well.
  • Pre-trial costs: Capital cases are far more complicated than non-capital cases and take longer to go to trial. Experts will probably be needed on forensic evidence, mental health, and the background and life history of the defendant. County taxpayers pick up the costs of added security and longer pre-trial detention.
  • Jury selection: Because of the need to question jurors thoroughly on their views about the death penalty, jury selection in capital cases is much more time consuming and expensive.
  • Trial: Death-penalty trials can last more than four times longer than non-capital trials, requiring juror and attorney compensation, in addition to court personnel and other related costs.
  • Incarceration: Most death rows involve solitary confinement in a special facility. These require more security and other accommodations as the prisoners are kept for 23 hours a day in their cells.
  • Appeals: To minimize mistakes, every prisoner is entitled to a series of appeals. The costs are borne at taxpayers’ expense. These appeals are essential because some inmates have come within hours of execution before evidence was uncovered proving their innocence.

News & Developments


News

Mar 27, 2023

COSTS: Louisiana Spent $7.7 Million on Death Penalty Defense in One Year. It Hasn’t Executed Anyone in 13 Years

According to the Louisiana Public Defender’s Office, the state spent $7.7 mil­lion on the legal rep­re­sen­ta­tion of defen­dants in death penal­ty cas­es just in 2022. That total does not include the costs of pros­e­cu­tors, judges, and oth­er crim­i­nal jus­tice per­son­nel. The state has not car­ried out an exe­cu­tion in 13 years and has had only one exe­cu­tion in the past 21 years. State offi­cials have attrib­uted the most recent exe­cu­tion delays to dif­fi­cul­ties obtain­ing the drugs need­ed for lethal injec­tion and has stopped set­ting exe­cu­tion dates.

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News

Apr 08, 2024

Ohio’s Attorney General’s Report Describes Death Penalty as Enormously Expensive” and Broken” in 2023 Capital Crimes Report

At a time when faith in society’s insti­tu­tions is at an all-time low, the fail­ure of the cap­i­tal-pun­ish­ment sys­tem could be Exhibit A,” con­cludes the annu­al Capital Crimes Report issued by by Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost. The Report high­lights numer­ous prob­lems with its bro­ken” cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment sys­tem, includ­ing the enor­mous­ly expen­sive” cost. 

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News

Nov 14, 2023

$9.1 million wrongful conviction settlement for Pennsylvania death row exoneree Walter Ogrod

Death-row exoneree Walter Ogrod’s fed­er­al law­suit against the City of Philadelphia and mem­bers of the Philadelphia Police Department was set­tled for $9.1 mil­lion on November 3, 2023. Mr. Ogrod, who was exon­er­at­ed in 2020 after 23 years on death row, was ini­tial­ly con­vict­ed in 1996 based on a coerced con­fes­sion and false tes­ti­mo­ny from jail­house infor­mants in a case fur­ther taint­ed by police and pros­e­cu­to­r­i­al mis­con­duct and inad­e­quate legal rep­re­sen­ta­tion at tri­al. In a state­ment con­firm­ing the set­tle­ment, offi­cials said The city remains com­mit­ted to trans­paren­cy in the pur­suit of…

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News

Jul 18, 2023

Ohio Joins Fifteen Other States Without an Execution in 5 Years

Today marks the five-year anniver­sary of Ohio’s last exe­cu­tion, which took place on July 18, 2018. Ohio now joins 15 oth­er states with­out an exe­cu­tion in the past five years. Although there is no for­mal mora­to­ri­um, Governor Mike DeWine has issued sev­er­al reprieves due to con­cerns about the lethal injec­tion pro­to­col and the dif­fi­cul­ty the state has had obtain­ing lethal injec­tion drugs. Ohio has exe­cut­ed 56 peo­ple in the mod­ern death penal­ty era, plac­ing it 8th over­all in the num­ber of exe­cu­tions in the United States. 

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News

Jul 06, 2023

Execution Costs in Idaho Take Center Stage with New Firing Squad Law

A bill that Idaho Governor Brad Little signed into law in March 2023, autho­riz­ing the use of the fir­ing squad as a method of exe­cu­tion, went into effect on July 1, 2023. This law grants the direc­tor of Idaho Department of Corrections (IDOC) the author­i­ty to deter­mine if lethal injec­tion is avail­able and, if deemed unavail­able, to car­ry out the exe­cu­tion by fir­ing squad.

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News

Apr 17, 2023

Ohio’s 2022 Capital Crimes Report Calls State Death Penalty a Broken System’

On March 31, 2023, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost released the state’s annu­al Capital Crimes report for 2022. According to the report, the aver­age time pris­on­ers spend on the state’s death row before an exe­cu­tion date is set is near­ly 21 years – a num­ber that has con­sis­tent­ly increased with each annu­al report. Even when an exe­cu­tion date is set, a pris­on­er is more like­ly to die of sui­cide or nat­ur­al caus­es than as a result of exe­cu­tion,” due to the ongo­ing dif­fi­cul­ty in obtain­ing lethal injec­tion drugs. The report…

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News

Sep 08, 2022

Commentary: Indiana Death Penalty — Expensive, Unreliable, and Withering on the Vine

With no exe­cu­tions in more than a decade and no new death sen­tences since 2014, Indianas cost­ly death penal­ty has reached a de fac­to mora­to­ri­um,” says Indiana Capital Chronicle edi­tor-in-chief Niki Kelly. “[M]aybe it’s time to be intel­lec­tu­al­ly hon­est and admit Indiana no longer has the death penal­ty,” Kelly wrote in a September 2, 2022 commentary.

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News

Feb 21, 2022

56 Prosecutors Issue Joint Statement Calling for End of Broken’ Death Penalty

Calling cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment in the U.S. bro­ken,” 56 elect­ed pros­e­cu­tors from across the coun­try have issued a joint state­ment urg­ing sys­temic changes to end the death penal­ty nation­wide. As an ini­tial step, the pros­e­cu­tors pledged to not seek the death penal­ty against peo­ple with intel­lec­tu­al dis­abil­i­ties, post-trau­mat­ic stress dis­or­der, his­to­ries of trau­mat­ic brain injury, or oth­er intel­lec­tu­al or cog­ni­tive chal­lenges that dimin­ish their abil­i­ty to ful­ly under­stand and reg­u­late their own actions.”

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News

Jan 12, 2022

DPIC Podcast: Contra Costa District Attorney Diana Becton on Bringing Fairness and Equity to Criminal Legal Reform and Ending the Death Penalty

In the January 2022 episode of Discussions with DPIC, Contra Costa County, California District Attorney Diana Becton (pic­tured), speaks with Death Penalty Information Center Executive Director Robert Dunham about the rise in reform pros­e­cu­tors across the coun­try, the inher­ent flaws in cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment that led her to work along­side oth­er reform pros­e­cu­tors to end the death penal­ty, and her efforts as dis­trict attor­ney to bring fair­ness and equi­ty to the crim­i­nal legal system.

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News

Nov 23, 2021

California Penal Code Committee Recommends Repealing State’s Death Penalty

The Committee on Revision of the Penal Code, cre­at­ed by the California state leg­is­la­ture to review the state’s crim­i­nal laws, has issued a report unan­i­mous­ly rec­om­mend­ing that the state repeal its death penal­ty. The six-mem­ber committee’s 39-page Death Penalty Report, released November 17, 2021, also offers inter­me­di­ate rec­om­men­da­tions for reduc­ing the size of California’s near­ly 700-per­son death row — the largest of any state in the country.

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