High Costs of the Death Penalty.

When I am asked outright whether or not I support the death penalty, I am often tempted to say I do just so I can pull a Samuel L. Jackson and shout;

sam jackson

(If you have not seen A Time to Kill then you fail at life.)

The truth of the matter is that I’ve always been very much on the fence regarding the death penalty. I have often said that I believe the family of the victims should have more of a say in the process. After all, aren’t they the ones we are seeking justice for?

Having had this discussion with many people over the years, one argument for the death penalty that has always been somewhat compelling to me is that capital punishment is more cost effective than life imprisonment. It may be a bit if a cold approach, but sometimes we need to take emotion out of the equation when figuring these hot button issues out.

Here is the thing though. Is it really more cost effective?

Common sense would deem that it is absolutely less of a strain on taxpayer’s dollars to institute the death penalty. Studies show that the average cost of keeping an inmate in a maximum security prison is around $25,000 a year. The average life sentence lasts somewhere between 40 and 45 years. That means the average life sentence costs around 1 million dollars to carry out.

By comparison if we look at the costs involved to carry out the death sentence, we see a stark contrast. The most commonly used form of execution in the US is lethal injection. Of the 37 executions carried out in 2007, only 1 was by electrocution. The other 36 were all lethal injection. Here is what a lethal injection costs;

– The drugs used for the lethal injection (Sodium Thiopental (sedates person), Pancuronium Bromide (collapses diaphragm and lungs), and Potassium Chloride (stops heart beat)) cost roughly $100. 

– The executioner is usually paid about 200 dollars to carry out the execution.

– The prisoner’s last meal is usually around 20 bucks.

– The new suit for burial is around 150 dollars.

– Lastly it costs about 600 dollars for the undertaker’s fees and a coffin.

All together these costs total a little over 1,000 dollars. This pales in comparison to the $1,000,000 shown for a life sentence. That is until we consider how lengthy of a process sentencing someone to death actually is.

When the Supreme Court re-instated the death penalty in 1976, they set forth a lengthy appeals process that all states must follow in any capital punishment case. This makes it extremely difficult to expedite the process. In 2007 there were over 3,200 inmates under sentence of death in the United States. Only 37 of those inmates were executed. In the state of Texas, which leads the nation in executions and death row inmates, the average prisoner sentenced to death will spend about 10 years on death row before they are executed. So if we apply our average of $25,000 a year per inmate to that 10 years we already have $250,000 more added to the cost to carry out a death sentence.

This pales in comparison however to the cost of litigation. At the outset, a murder case involving capital punishment takes an average of 34 more days to complete than non-capital punishment cases. On top of this, the slew of appeals can go on and on. It is estimated that the appeals process in the average death penalty case costs 2 to 3 million dollars of taxpayer’s money. The Supreme Court has made very stringent rules to try to ensure the rights of death row inmates, and these rules make it very difficult to actually carry out these sentences.

A good example of how expensive this process can be is the case of serial murder Ted Bundy. In 1989 it is estimated that it cost the state of Florida 5 million dollars to execute Bundy. Would as many people have been in favor of his execution if they knew how much it would cost?

But as is so often the case with these politically charged issues, you have to look at all the facs. Depending on which source you choose, these numbers will be skewed in either direction to suit the writer’s agenda. For example many of these studies do not take into account costs like geriatric care for inmates (estimated at about $69,000 a year). It is also assumed by many that a sentence of life without parole means that there will not be an appeals process. The appeals process for a death sentence may be more costly at the outset, but over time the appeals process for a life sentence tends to even out seeing as there is more time to appeal.

It’s all a big mess in the end. After doing the research and reading various sources, it is unclear which is more expensive. It seems to me that both are not very cost effective. The appeals process in general needs some serious re-vamping.  



  1. I have always wondered about the numbers that say it is more expensive to execute a person.  I think they are talking about all the appeals cost which are probably not accurate when you consider most of those people would be in court anyway.

  2. When I was reading the 1st paragraphs I was yelling at the computer…”NO! IT COSTS SO MUCH MORE FOR THE DEATH PENALTY” Glad you added the numbers and the statistics. People just think “revenge” and don’t research. God forbid anything happen to a family member of mine, i could never carry out a death of another, causing their family the same grief.

  3. Hmmm. Very interesting. Thank you for researching this! Ideally people would quit doing bad stuff (haha, listen to my philosophical ways) so that A. We wouldn’t have to kill them and B. We wouldn’t have to pay for them.

  4. I totally heard Samuel L. Jackson in my head when I read that quote. I love that movie. I cry every single time, but I love it anyway.I tend to ride the fence on the death penalty. Mostly, I am against it. Then, I hear about a case that just so terrible that all I can do is shake my head and say “that person is stealing my oxygen, and it ain’t right.”

  5. @StrawberriesMimi – eh. you’re young so you are excused for now. GO SEE IT!!!@TheMarriedFreshman – The moral side of it. I don’t necessarily think the courts should be able to decide if a person lives or dies, but I also know if it were one of my loved ones, I might want the death penalty.@A_Rose_Exposed –  It was very interesting to read about.@Laryssa – that would be pretty sweet. Not happening though.@elelkewljay – that it was!@Krissy_Cole – EXACTLY! People are capable of some pretty terrible stuff.

  6. @SladeTheGreyFox – I concur =)But seriously, the appeals process for death row inmates is unnecessary. The average wait time between conviction and execution is 10-15 years. Think of the victim’s families in those times. I’m sorry, but they lost their right to basic human kindness when they did whatever it is that landed them on death row. I know that is harsh, but we’re so concerned with the “rights” of the inmate that we’re telling the families oh you and your torment don’t matter. You can wait 10-15 years to see this person pay, right? Oh and not only that, but your hard earned money is probably paying for his appeals process. I’m sorry, but how fucked up is that? It is a hot topic debate, and to try and look at it from a logical viewpoint is pretty much impossible for me. But I will try. Removing all emotion from the argument, it comes out something like this: Person A brutally murders 25 people. He is tried and convicted by a jury of his peers. The court issues a death sentence. I can understand 1-2 appeals. Assuming that due process is observed, the appeals process should take no more than 2 years, and that is being generous. If their appeals fail, they should be executed. Plain and simple.

  7. Take your conclusion one step further.  The justice system in general needs serious re-vamping.It should not cost $25,000 a year to provide basic necessities – food, clothing, and shelter – to inmates.  It does, because they get all of their luxuries and privileges as well.  Turn of the a/c and video games, cut out the meals that are better than what we feed our children in public schools, and quit spending money on weight rooms and basketball courts for criminals.  Maybe when jail stops looking like an all-expense paid vacation from real-life responsibilities, crime will actually be deterred by it.

  8. As much as I like Samuel L Jackson, I’m against the death penalty because it let’s people off too easy.Great post, thanks for sharing!

  9. I had always been for the ole biblical eye for an eye punishment thing. That was until recently when I realize that the death penalty is a lousy deterrent for comitting murder. If you still have to put people to death for murder then the penalty doesn’t work. More needs to be done on the pre-crime end to prevent murders in the first place.

  10. Look at you coming out with some serious thought provoking posts! wow. I’m solidly impressed. You’re funny, brains and beauty too?? Dave, you’re the total package 😛

  11. The Death penalty doesn’t have to be cost effective…. it just has to be effective!   In killing some defective that thought it would be a good idea to lock his girlfriend in the trunk of her car, then set it on fire, thereby killing her.  (Just put to death today,  thankfully)

  12. Taking emotion of out the equation is a dangerous move. That’s how we stop behaving like humans and stop treating others as humans. That makes it easier to kill.

  13. I don’t support the death penalty. I also don’t condone letting people rot in jail for the rest of their natural life. I’ve always wondered why our society can’t come up with more productive ways of dealing with these people. What if they had to spend there days working in hospice, watching families lose a loved one so they could learn the value of life. Or what if someone who murdered a father was responsible for supporting that man’s family???? Our justice system is whacked.

  14. Let’s forego the cost for a moment: for someone convicted of a crime by a jury of their piers, I will never understand how the system allows these felons to spend literally years and years on death row awaiting death, while they enjoy the amenites of incarceration. (the programs they offer inmates “ain’t” too bad)  So, tell me, what is the point of the death penalty in the first place? Now THAT is a travesty! sage         

  15. The real cost is of course to our collective soul. This was why Queen Juliana in Holland refused to sign the death penalty for some war criminals. She asked simply what’s to be gained from continuing the cycle of primitive retribution? And she decided that she had to be the one to break it. Further there’s always the argument that it’s the one sentence which you can never rectify if it turns out you were wrong. It’s a barbaric custom, which simply continues the cycle of barbarism.

  16. To be honest, I like being a ninja, a vampire, a Jedi, a Jack the Ripper….I like blood after all. That and gory movies. I’m ALL of the villains rolled into one.But that’s in another world. The world we live in is somewhat different. We are called to be compassionate and not to kill someone just to seek justice. Yes, these killers deserve to die, but it isn’t in our power anymore. It’s God’s.

  17.  I think that beyond the question of cost is the question of equal punishment.  In general, as a Christian, I oppose the death penalty, because I feel that it violates the basic tenets of forgiveness that I believe Jesus taught.  However, I also understand that there needs to be some sort of punishment or rehabilitation (i prefer rehabilitation) process for members of society who do great damage.My question here is – what about the fact that minorities and the poor are far more likely to get the death penalty than whites?  I think that is one of the more profound reasons to advocate against the death penalty.

  18. I think what bothers me most is that it costs $25,000/ year to house them.  They should not be living any better than a low income person in the slums.  radicalramblings has it right in that they shouldn’t have televisions or workout facilities.  They should just have the basics- basic food that just fills the caloric neccesities as stated by law, and a yard to run around in (no workout equipment or basketball hoops).  If they are in jail, they obviously deserve it. They should have no priveleges imo.  It’s harsh, but that’s just the way I feel.  And as for taxes paying for the executed persons casket and burial- that is baloney to me. That expense should be left to the family.  I could be wrong, but doesn’t a murdered person’s family have to pay for their burial and funeral costs?Yes, I am all for the death penalty.  I think it needs to take shorter than 10-15 years to be done as well.

  19. When people were hung on squares in London, pickpockets did a good job with the revengefull public… If death penalty has a meaning, it only means eye for eye. Revengefully we kill just like the criminal did. And if we must do it just because it’s cost effective, then we may also kill all the bad students, the elder people, the handicaped ones, etc… let’s kill them all.

  20. Damn, Dave, you sure did your research; good job! Being from Texas, it’s safe to assume I’m for the death penalty. Although I wasn’t aware of how long and expensive the process was, that’s rough.

  21. When you put it like this, it’s very difficult to make a decision as to which is the better way to go. I will say there are a few instances for which I am fully behind the death penalty, and will not be swayed on my position. They aren’t many, but I consider them horrendous crimes and have zero tolerance for them. This post has definitely made me think though…

  22. I say stop the death penalty! Give them community service. Maybe working with children in a day care center or at a nursing home reading to the elderly and playing dominos with them. I have met some stone cold killers in my life and they all seemed like they just needed a hug and a kiss on the mouth.

  23. I wish they had the death penalty in Canada. Too many villains use appeals and other loop holes to survive for years. The only problem I worry about is when a person is wrongfully convicted. It does happen. If a person confesses to a first degree murder though, he should go right to the head of the line and get it done.  Set better conditions and limits on appeals. Also, if someone is in prison doing life and wants a way out, let them commit suicide. Give them a day to say good-bye to everyone, let them have a good meal, a few smokes, maybe even a bottle of wine. Put them into a room and let them shoot themselves, use poison, hang, whatever they choose. I bet some would go for an offer like this. 

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