Death, Sentencing, Danger in Jail

Thank you Doug Clark for taking a stand against the death penalty. From the column in today's N&R

. . ."If we can't explain or justify these disparities, then the death penalty is arbitrary and should be abolished.
Not out of sympathy, but fairness. Because unfairness is inexcusable in matters of life and death."

An account in the N&R yesterday said that a man in Charlotte was arrested and charged with killing the child of his girlfriend. This man had recently been released after serving 25 years for killing his own 19-month-old child in another state.

This is a horrible thing and probably a child's life was lost because this man lived. One justification for the death penalty is that "this particular person will never do the crime again." This is true.

On the other hand, is the awareness that innocent people have been killed by the government for crimes they did not commit. and the reality that the death penalty is not applied fairly or swiftly. The more money or notoriety a convicted death row inmate has, the less likely he/she will be executed by the state in a timely manner.

Another reason given for the death penalty is the cost of housing a prisoner for life. Executing a criminal is more costly to society than imprisonment. Sounds crazy doesn't it. But my research shows that it is true.

Proper sentencing of dangerous people is not an exact science. Keeping dangerous people out of society is adequate to protect us from other crimes they might commit. This is a hard thing to do.

I have read, and I believe, that there are people serving long prison terms and much money spent in catching, trying and incarcerating people for long periods who should not be in prison at all. Reforming our laws, our sentencing system and our prison system should be a priority for law makers, judges and citizens. The US has a higher percentage of people in prison than it should.

Right here in Guilford County, we have much overcrowding in our jails. Around 90 percent of those in local jails are waiting trial or sentencing. Many are violent criminals and repeat criminals. Many are there for non-violent crimes and for missing arraignment or trial dates.

I'm not sure what should be done, but I do know that the current Guilford County Jail is inadequate for keeping these people. There is danger in the jails. Guilford County jails are dangerous for inmates, employees and for Guilford County Commissioners who can be sued because of the conditions in our jail.


spyderbonez said...

Where did you find the research that says it costs more to execute someone rather than keeping them in prison?

diane said...

Here are a few of the information sources.
• The California death penalty system costs taxpayers $114 million per year beyond the costs of keeping convicts locked up for life.
Taxpayers have paid more than $250 million for each of the state’s executions. (L.A. Times, March 6, 2005)
• In Kansas, the costs of capital cases are 70% more expensive than comparable non-capital cases, including the costs of incarceration.
(Kansas Performance Audit Report, December 2003).
• In Indiana, the total costs of the death penalty exceed the complete costs of life without parole sentences by about 38%, assuming
that 20% of death sentences are overturned and reduced to life. (Indiana Criminal Law Study Commission, January 10, 2002).
• The most comprehensive study in the country found that the death penalty costs North Carolina $2.16 million per execution over the
costs of sentencing murderers to life imprisonment. The majority of those costs occur at the trial level. (Duke University, May 1993).
• Enforcing the death penalty costs Florida $51 million a year above what it would cost to punish all first-degree murderers with life in
prison without parole. Based on the 44 executions Florida had carried out since 1976, that amounts to a cost of $24 million for each
execution. (Palm Beach Post, January 4, 2000).
• In Texas, a death penalty case costs an average of $2.3 million, about three times the cost of imprisoning someone in a single cell at
the highest security level for 40 years. (Dallas Morning News, March 8, 1992).


A review of the literature about the death penalty shows that no state has saved money by using it. For example, A Dallas Morning News study of costs in Texas, the state which has executed the most prisoners in the U.S., showed the cost of executing a prisoner, including all expenses from trial through appeals, and assuming the case concluded in 7.5 years, to be $2,316,655. Imprisoning someone in a single cell at the highest security for 40 years in Texas costs about $750,000.

It is estimated that it costs $383,980 for 40 years of imprisonment in Missouri.

The higher cost is due to the fact that the legal process in death penalty cases is very complicated, reflecting the stakes involved. Death penalty trials are often longer and more complicated than non-death murder trials. The jury selection process is more involved. Many more motions are often filed by both the State and the defense. There may be more intensive use of experts and investigators. If a conviction is obtained, extensive appeals in state and federal courts inevitably follow.

Anyone on trial for his or her life should be expected to mount an energetic defense. The detailed trial and appellate process in death penalty cases has grown out of concern for justice and the permanent consequences of a mistaken conviction. Such protection will never be cheap. Even life in prison, in comparison, is more economical and does not pose significantly increased danger to the public. Maximum security prisons in Missouri know how to control and maintain even the most violent and dangerous people in their charge.

Source of Texas Information: Christy Hoppe, "Executions Cost Texas Millions," The Dallas Morning News, March 8, 1992 p. 12A.


Dr. Philip Cook and Donna Swenson of Duke University released a report in April of 1993 called "The Costs of Processing Murder Cases in North Carolina." It compared the costs of prosecuting murder cases capitally and noncapitally in North Carolina. The state of North Carolina spends approximately $2.16 million per actual execution. The overall costs to the state for having the death sentence are $4 million a year higher than if it only sought life sentences in first degree murder cases.
According to the Duke study, the costs to the tax payers for first degree murder prosecution and conviction that results in execution is $165,000 higher than if the same person had been sentenced to life in prison. Speeding up the appeals process was found to have no significant effect on the number of dollars spent.
Source of Duke Report at:


In CT, in 2000, there were 98 murders, 678 forcible rapes, 3832 robberies and 6450 aggravated assaults. In CT, as of 2002, it cost the PD's office an average of $380,000 per case for the 7 men on death row, totalling $2,659,921. By comparision, those sentenced to life after being charged with the death penalty cost an average of $202,365, totalling $2,630,745. Those who weren't charged with the death penalty, but were sentenced to life after a trial cost an average of $79,777. Full report of the CT Commission on the Death Penalty here. The 2003-2004 cost of providing capital defense in CT was $1,959,523. That's a lot of money that could be saved.