A Utah lawmaker wants to study how the costs of the death penalty stack up to those of life without parole.
Republican state Rep. Stephen Handy submitted a bill for the 2018 legislative session that would order a study on the cumulative cost of a death penalty case from prosecution to execution. The total figure would factor in 25 years of potential appeals. The cost would then be compared to those of incarcerating a murder inmate serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
The Standard-Examiner notes that a 2012 legislative analyst estimated that death penalty sentences cost $1.6 million more than life sentences. Handy says that this estimate fails to consider all of the data; his bill proposes taking into account defense costs for both county and state prosecution, court fees and incarceration expenses.
The legislator stresses that the study "doesn’t have to be pro or con death penalty." He wants to make "data-driven decisions" so that when the death penalty is suggested, "we'll be informed."
"I look at it also as trying to adhere to mainstream conservatism," Handy said. "[Capital punishment] may not be the best use of hard-earned taxpayer dollars, with the costs of education and social services growing exponentially."
According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2,881 inmates in 33 states and federal prisons were on death row in 2015. The Salt Lake Tribune reports there are nine men awaiting death in Utah. The last Utah execution was carried out in 2010.
Handy says he has faced pushback from some regarding his approach. He told the Standard-Examiner of a time when Weber County Sheriff Terry Thompson "came at me like a house afire" while discussing the topic.
The death penalty "is certainly no deterrent" to Handy, who said that he wonders "what purpose it has, except for payback or from a vengeance standpoint now."
Sheriff Thompson countered Handy in an interview: "Nobody says: 'Gosh, I love the death penalty.' But it is important for the most egregious offenses, when lives are taken, changed forever, and people have to live without their loved ones."
Thompson used Charles Manson as an example of how repealing the death penalty -- as California did after sentencing Manson to death for the murders he helped prepetrate in 1969 -- can significantly prolong the amount of time killers spend in prison. Manson spent 46 years in jail before dying on Nov. 19, according to CNN.
"There need to be some teeth in our laws for them to be effective," said Thompson. "I truly believe the death penalty does deter, in many cases that we'll never know."