Monday, May 21, 2007


It Doesn't Make Cents (or Dollars)!

Yesterday's Bristol Herald Courier carried an interesting article on the costs of capital punishment in Tennessee. While citing the study done by the comptroller several years ago, which stated (with huge holes in its research) that each capital trial cost $46,000, the article points out that a current capital trial going on in Bristol has already cost over $85,000. And that isn't even the total cost! Nor does it include the coming costs of the post-conviction appeals. The point is that the death penalty system costs us, as tax-payers, tons of money! The extra costs include:
  • Two defense counsel required for capital cases
  • Far greater investigation and expert testimony costs
  • Far more court time (a two-phased trial)
  • Greater costs for juries
  • Vastly more motions by both sides
  • Many more hours in preparation by the D.A.'s office

When we put all of this together, and include (as we should) the costs of all the trials where the death penalty is sought and not, in the end, received, we find that hundreds of millions, perhaps a billion dollars have been spent here in Tennessee on a system that has executed only 3 people in 47 years! Think of what all that money could have done for education, mental health care, or victims' services.

Comments :
There are side benefits to all of this expense. Death cases are very good at bringing to bear all of the issues in the criminal justice system. Would there be such a focus on innocence etc. had death never been part of the system? I doubt it.
I think it would be preferable to not have a system that risks innocent life and instead put those millions upon millions of dollars into improvements throughout the criminal justice system as well as into programs that protect society and offer true healing to victims and their families.
Tennessee just set three more execution dates.
My bad, four dates. 2 in September, 1 in October and 1 in December.
'...Would there be such a focus on innocence etc. had death never been part of the system? I doubt it'.

Wrong, anonymous. Despite that we've had no death penalty for murder in my country since 1965, there has been public concern in my country about people convicted of murder who were subsequently pardoned after evidence in their favour came to light. For the sake of example, may I suggest that you go to Wikipedia and do a search on the case of Stefan Kiszko?

Wherever there's no death penalty, the justice system still fails, but at least it fails - safe.
Nigel--perhaps you could read a little more carefully. I know that's hard when you're in high dudgeon . . . .

I wrote "such a focus". Of course, people will always care about innocent people. My argument is that the death penalty has brought the issue more to the forefront.
Anonymous, you have my personal assurance that my words were measured. Were I writing in a fit of rage, I wouldn't have gone to the trouble of mentioning a case which was (and still is) of grave public concern in my country, which has effectively had no death penalty for over 40 years, thank God. Did you, at my suggestion, look at the Wikipedia entry that I mentioned? I'll even mention a Website you can look at of (the now late) Sally Clark (, one of three women sentenced to life imprisonment after she had suffered multiple cot deaths - which "expert" witnesses stated were murder. I was a supporter of hers - and proud of it.
In any event, I think it difficult to argue against the proposition that, here in the states, the death penalty has focused people's attention on errors in the criminal justice system.
You think it was worth it to have innocent people executed so we could focus on errors in the criminal justice system? Wouldn't it have been better to pour that money into other resources for victims' rights and advocacy for juveniles? As well as offering healing and reconiliation? I think the argument that the death penalty here in the States has focused people's attention on errors in the criminal justice system, and therefore it is good to have it, is a pretty terrible one. I am sure there would be a focus on innocence no matter if death was involved or not.
A favorite tactic, putting words in my mouth. I merely stated that absent the death penalty, we would not have had the focus on innocence issues, and that focus has produced a number of changes that have helped our criminal justice system.

As for healing and reconciliation, that's not what the state should spend money on. At all.

Would there have been a focus on innocence had there been no death penalty, yes, but there is no way that the focus would have been as sharp.

I agree that this is not a principled argument for the death penalty at all, and I never have presented it as such.
Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Links to this post :

Create a Link

<< Home