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The cost of death

Amanda Koziel | Thursday, December 1, 2011

Despite the common misconception, the death penalty isn’t a moral issue. It is a public policy issue: a bureaucratic issue, a systematic issue and a cost issue. Sure, the death penalty may be a government administration of “justice,” but it is more fundamentally a government administration. And when we, as Indiana residents, start evaluating government policies such as the Indiana death penalty (or the same policy in our home states), we must look at the effectiveness, fairness and cost of the program compared to other alternatives.

Currently, California spends $137 million on the death penalty, while the alternative of life imprisonment is estimated at $11.5 million. In Texas, the average death penalty case costs $2.3 million, or three times the cost of maximum security imprisonment for 40 years. Last year, a report by Indiana’s State Legislature found that the average cost of a death penalty trial was 10 times that of a trial for life without parole — causing the state to pay over $10.5 million for death penalty cases since 1990.

Furthermore, taxpayers are burdened with the cost of a death penalty trial even when the death sentence is not carried out. Even in Texas — the most active state in carrying out executions — less than 40 percent of death sentences are imposed.

In a 2009 poll, police chiefs across the country ranked the death penalty as the least efficient use of taxpayers’ money. “If you look at this from a public policy perspective, from a taxpayer’s perspective, in either case the person is going to die in prison. The only question is who picks the date.”

First and foremost, the death penalty is a government policy. It therefore must be evaluated as an imperfect construction of government before it is evaluated on grounds of morality or justice.

If there is a more effective, more cost efficient way to both deter criminals and punish those who commit crimes, it should be implemented. Life without parole is just as effective and yet an exceedingly more cost-efficient alternative to the death penalty. Pressuring our state representatives to abolish the death penalty in Indiana would free up funds for better uses of taxpayers’ money.


Amanda Koziel


Pangborn Hall

Dec. 1