Death penalty costs more than life in prison


One of the most common arguments you'll hear in favor of the death penalty -- other than the somewhat barbaric "eye for an eye" one -- is the notion that it saves money.

My mother, a social worker and a liberal Democrat, told me that she supports the death penalty because she would rather see limited funds devoted to rehabilitating young offenders, rather than paying for lifetime incarceration for people without the possibility of parole. Her motive for supporting the death penalty is compassion.

But recent research shows that it's actually less expensive to incarcerate someone for life than it is to execute them. Lengthy appeals and red tape designed to assure that the utmost caution is taken before ending a life drag the pre-execution process on for decades -- and millions in legal fees.

With state budgets in crisis, some states are looking at ending the death penalty, entirely for economic reasons. New Jersey took that step in 2007, The Associated Press reports that Maryland, Nebraska, Colorado, New Mexico, Montana, New Hampshire, Washington and Kansas may follow suit. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson has long been a proponent of capital punishment but budgetary pressures have him reconsidering that choice.

The huge costs associated with the death penalty are a very good argument for doing away with it -- as though the possibility of executing an innocent person weren't good enough on its own.