New Report Show that States Can’t Afford the Death Penalty

“Thirty-five states still retain the death penalty, but fewer and fewer executions are taking place every year,” said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC). “But the overall death row population has remained relatively steady. At a time of budget shortfalls nationwide, the death penalty is turning into an expensive form of life without parole.” Dieter made these comments to CNN today with the release of a new report, commissioned by DPIC, on the cost of the death penalty.

The study found that death penalty costs can average $10 million more per year per state than life sentences. Increased costs include more security and guaranteed access to lengthy appeals.

In 2007, the Tennessee State Comptrollers office testified to the legislative Committee to Study the Administration of the Death Penalty in Tennessee that the state has no way to know exactly what it is spending on the death penalty as it has no centralized way to track the data. Even so, a 2004 report by the Tennessee Comptrollers office still showed the death penalty system to be more expensive than one which utilizes life without parole as its maximum punishment. As Nashville attorney and author of Tennessee’s death penalty statute stated in his own testimony to the Committee, “The death penalty in Tennessee is a luxury item in the budget.”

With Tennessee having executed 5 people in the modern era and released 2 who spent more than 20 years each fighting their convictions, is this a policy that we can say is really working for us?

Released with the DPIC study was a privately conducted poll of 500 police chiefs showing that the death penalty ranked last among their priorities for reducing violent crime. Adding more police officers ranked first. Perhaps Tennessee could make such life saving additions to our police departments statewide if we freed up money wasted on the death penalty.

Read the full report here.

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