Recently, in Arizona, a convicted killer was up to be executed for his crimes. Joseph Rudolph Wood III, convicted of the shooting deaths of his estranged girlfriend and her father, was to face death by lethal injection. However, the killer took more than 90 minutes to succumb to the injection, fueling the debate about how in which we deal with capital crimes, how the drugs used in such activities are used, and whether the death penalty is even acceptable.
If one looks at the topic, one finds much consternation over the appeals process and the method of executions. Many tend to believe that killing the inmate is much cheaper than keeping them alive. However, it is actually the other way around. Indeed, the actual execution event costs the state very little, however where the cost comes is in the fact that capital cases tend to cost more and take far more time to resolve than non-capital cases. According to the Kansas Judicial Council, to defend a death penalty case costs up to four times more than a case where the death penalty isn’t considered. The Washington State Bar Association found that death penalty cases bring about $470,000 in extra costs to the defense and prosecution than a case that doesn’t. Even in those cases where the defendant pleads guilty, cases where the death penalty was pursued still cost about twice as much. Richard C. Dieter of the non-partisan Death Penalty Information Center has stated that studies have “uniformly and conservatively shown that a death-penalty trial costs $1 million more than one in which prosecutors seek life without parole.”
With appeals, more time is spent with those on death row as opposed to those not. This of course comes from the fact that much error can be found in the justice system, and this is an attempt to balance it out. The State Appellate Public Defenders Office in Idaho spent about 44 times more time on a typical death penalty appeal than on a life sentence one. It costs more to house death penalty prisoners as well. Incarceration rates in the state of California totaled more than $1 billion from 1978 to 2011. The annual cost of the death penalty in California is $137 million as opposed to the cost of lifetime incarceration at $11.5 million.
States and local governments typically bear the brunt of these costs, and that means taxpayers of all walks of life. In a tough economy, it all adds up. State spending on corrections/prisons has almost quadrupled over the last few decades, making it the fastest growing budget item after Medicaid.
Some might say that the best way of fixing the system would be to streamline, or shorten, the appeals process. While some truth might be there, it probably wouldn’t be wise. The appeals process, as stated before, is a way to balance the inadequacies in the system. There are cases of people on death row who have turned out to be completely innocent. Such lanes, no matter how much people might not like them, serve a purpose. With death being the gravest of sentences, that isn’t likely to change. But money isn’t everything. When it comes to providing justice for the victims of a crime, many of whom will never see their loved ones again, it can’t always come down to dollars and cents. There is never likely to be a consensus on this topic.
However, we can glean a little perspective from someone who has experienced both sides. Gordon “Randy” Steidl lived on death row and in the general prison population after his sentence was commuted to life. Wrongfully convicted, his sentence was eventually overturned. He was the 18th person to be exonerated and released in Illinois since 1977. Today, Steidl has strong feelings about prison life, saying, “If you really want to kill someone, give them life without parole. It’s worse than dying.”