As part of our invitation to other bloggers to guest here on the Death Penalty Blog, Terry and I are happy to publish the following article sent to us by Charles Sipe of the career-advice website, Criminal Justice Degrees Schools. Here, without edit or change, is James Madieros’ article for your consideration. Thanks, Charles and James! — Reba Kennedy, Esq.
Rising costs, a national recession and a broader global financial crisis are taking its toll on individuals as well as institutions at every level; a ripple effect of fiscal turmoil that is felt in private and public sectors alike. And, state budgets are not immune.
The nation has watched as cash-strapped states have turned to moneymaking schemes that would have once been unthinkable, like flouting federal law to legalize marijuana. So, it should be no surprise that these shifts in moral and political thinking may also extend to death penalty cases.
Of course, death penalty abolitionists are quick to point out the cost of a death penalty case as a reason to reform capital punishment. That it is expensive is not an argument in and of itself, but when the costs potentially puts other state programs at risk by draining taxpayer dollars the numbers gain more force.
Many states are examining the books for ways to cut costs, and death penalty cases are a glaring entry in the margin. According to research conducted by the non-partisan Death Penalty Information Center in 2010, the average death penalty case costs $1 million more than a case that seeks life imprisonment without parole, and it’s safe to assume the cost hasn’t gone down since then.
The reason for this is fairly simple: no stone is left unturned when a person’s life is at stake, and the fallout for executing an innocent person is the stuff of any politician’s nightmares (not to mention the bad dreams of detectives, crime scene investigators, jury members, the prosecuting attorney and the judge).
Strangely, the argument that a person’s life is at stake in some fashion in a life-without-parole case never makes news, and may be a product of the emphasis placed on the death penalty. Nevertheless, the difference in costs make it clear that mistakes at this level are not as much of an issue, and that the outcome is more morally digestible for death penalty opponents.
And, it’s more digestible for state budget auditors as well. Of the 34 states that still practice capital punishment, several are finding it financially unfeasible to continue supporting it. Setting aside the unsettling reality that financial considerations may have the power to influence the moral imperative, states are becoming more vocal about cutting costs in the courtroom.
So, are state budget concerns shaping policy regarding death penalty reform? The answer is a resounding “yes.” In the end, though, a vote for or against capital punishment will decide the fate of a state budget. In financially troubled states like Mississippi, where the cost of each death sentence rendered is estimated to cost $3 million, voters may decide that money talking is more important than a dead man walking.
James Madeiros is a recent law school grad and staff writer at Criminal Justice Degree Schools, a resource site providing information on criminal justice education including paralegal degree programs in each state.