Execution costs in California at $308 million apiece

Old man, death row

Taxpayers have spent more than $4 billion on capital punishment in California since it was reinstated in 1978, or about $308 million for each of the 13 executions carried out since then, according to a comprehensive analysis of the death penalty’s costs.

The examination of state, federal and local expenditures for capital cases, conducted over three years by a senior federal judge and a law professor, estimated that the additional costs of capital trials, enhanced security on death row and legal representation for the condemned adds $184 million to the budget each year.

The study’s authors, U.S. 9th Circuit Judge Arthur L. Alarcon and Loyola Law School professor Paula M. Mitchell, also forecast that the tab for maintaining the death penalty will climb to $9 billion by 2030, when San Quentin’s death row will have swollen to well over 1,000…

Their report traces the legislative and initiative history of the death penalty in California, identifying costs imposed by the expansion of the types of crimes that can lead to a death sentence and the exhaustive appeals guaranteed condemned prisoners…

Alarcon four years ago issued an urgent appeal for overhaul of capital punishment in the state, noting that the average lag between conviction and execution was more than 17 years, twice the national figure. Now it is more than 25 years, with no executions since 2006 and none likely in the near future because of legal challenges to the state’s lethal injection procedures…

Unless profound reforms are made by lawmakers who have failed to adopt previous recommendations for rescuing the system, Alarcon and Mitchell say, capital punishment will continue to exist mostly in theory while exacting an untenable cost…

As with the recommendations in Alarcon’s 2007 report, none of the remedies outlined by the commission chaired by former Atty. Gen. John Van de Kamp has been adopted by lawmakers or put to the public for a vote.

As on so many issues, California leads the way to problems as often as solutions. Personally, I have no problem with economics overruling biblical morality. I may have strong feelings about the justice of execution on a case-by-case basis; but, securely warehousing some demented killer until he dies of old age at a savings of $1.1 million [as the report describes] makes fiscal, social and political sense.

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