Contributed By:

Rebecca Robinson

The Economics of the Death Penalty

OPB | Nov. 23, 2009 9 a.m. | Updated: Sept. 10, 2013 9:07 p.m.

Still Burning, Creative Commons via Flickr

$14 million is no small sum. That’s how much Oregon will spend on death penalty litigation in the next five years, according to a recent Oregonian article. The state has executed just two men since voters reinstated capital punishment in 1984, but has borne many millions of dollars in legal costs for its Death Row inmates - including 10 rounds of state and federal appeals per defendant that can take nearly 15 years to complete.

Washington state has its fair share of Death Row expenses. A 2006 report by the Washington State Bar Association noted that a death penalty case generated nearly $470,000 more in costs than would an aggravated murder case without the death penalty. Such six-figure sums are why Stevens County commissioners, already facing a $1.2 million deficit, are loath to take on a capital case.

The current recession has state and county governments carefully eyeing the bottom line, and in the process reconsidering the amount of time and money they allot to death penalty cases. Eleven states introduced legislation this year to abolish capital punishment or reduce the number of cases eligible for a death penalty verdict. (The former was introduced in Washington, the latter in Oregon; neither were brought up for a vote.) However, staunch proponents of the death penalty argue that, in addition to deterring crime and providing closure for victims’ families, it is less expensive in the long run than life without parole.

Should the death penalty be abolished or curtailed to cut costs? Or is it an essential component of our criminal justice system regardless of its price tag?

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