The anti-execution Death Penalty Information Center report says that since 1976, an extra $2 billion has been spent on death penalty cases in the United States that wouldn't have been spent if the highest penalty was life in prison. That takes into account the cost of the initial trial, as well as the decades of appeals that all capital cases require.
"It is doubtful in today's economic climate that any legislature would introduce the death penalty if faced with the reality that each execution would cost taxpayers 25 million dollars, or that the state might spend more than 100 million dollars over several years and produce few or no executions," argued Richard Dieter, director of the Center and the report's author.
The report says even when the harshest sentence is handed down, it rarely results in a criminal being put to death, which wastes even more money. "Further down the road, only one in?10 of the death sentences handed down may result in an execution," said Dieter.
In the United States, 35 of the 50 states currently have the death penalty. But only around?12 states use it regularly. Another dozen or so are reconsidering the punishment, in part because of the high cost. New Mexico and New Jersey recently abolished it. In fact, the report says New Jersey spent $253 million on death penalty cases over 25 years -- and never executed a single prisoner.
"There is no reason the death penalty should be immune from reconsideration, along with other wasteful, expensive programs that no longer make sense," Dieter said. "The same states that are spending millions of dollars on the death penalty are facing severe cutbacks in other justice areas. Courts are open less, trials are delayed, and even police are being furloughed."
Cash-strapped California, for example, spends $137 million a year on capital cases. A comparable system that instead sentenced the same offenders to life without parole would cost $11.5 million, says the report.