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Capital Stupidity: The Death Penalty Costs California $300 Million Per Execution

Not only is the death penalty racist, classist, and ultra-violent, a new study says it's tremendously wasteful, too.

Capital punishment is absurd for a lot of reasons: It's racist, classist, and it doesn't even deter crime. And yet two-thirds of Americans still support the practice, which has been abandoned in every other Western democracy. In the midst of America's great recession, perhaps an appeal to citizens' pocketbooks will change their minds about the death penalty.


In a new study out of California, judge Lawrence Alarcon and Loyola Marymount law professor Paula Mitchell report that since 1978, the 13 executions carried out in California have cost the state, and thus taxpayers, more than $300 million each. Why so costly? Because it takes the state on average about 25 years to kill a prisoner, the bills associated with housing, feeding, clothing, and nursing 714 death row inmates explode. Besides that you have the costs of guiding them through the Byzantine legal process. Nobody has been executed in California since 2006, mostly because the state's use of lethal injection has been "mired in legal challenges," according to the Guardian.

Even sentencing the worst criminal offenders to life in prison rather than killing them would make a marked difference in inmate spending. If every prisoner on death row were given life in prison instead, Alarcon and Mitchell estimate that California would save $200 million annually.

More conservative minded Americans might say all this study proves is that we need to kill death row inmates faster to save money. But that's not how the criminal justice system works; everyone is allowed their day—or more likely their decade—in court. The justice system is indeed sluggish and broken in many ways, but that's a solution that can't be improved in the short-term. What we can do immediately is abolish the death penalty, which is not just barbaric and unjust, but also a waste.

photo via Paul Sakuma/AP

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