Saturday, June 27, 2009


Duke (North Carolina) Death Penalty Cost Study (1993): Let's be honest
Dudley Sharp

Contrary to consistent misinformation, the study actually finds that LWOP is more expensive that the death penalty.

A perfect example of how bad things are in academia. This cost review has been quoted extensively, in academia, media and in anti death penalty literature. Every time I have seen it cited, it has been, blatantly, misleading and in error. Not once have I found any correction from the authors. 

Anti death penalty folks claim that the death penalty costs $2.1 million dollars more than a life sentence in North Carolina.

This sticks as one of the more widely used cost deceptions by the anti death penalty crowd.

True life cases are more expensive than death penalty cases, as per the Duke Study. (1)

As per the Duke study, the difference in cost between a "life" sentence and a death sentence is from $163, 459  -  $216, 461. (Table 9.1, page 77)

However, in the study, a "life" sentence is only 20 years. You need to add at least 20 years, or $332, 000/case, to get a true life sentence (my analysis). The Duke study "present valued" incarceration costs at $16, 600/year. (Tables 8.1, page 71 & 9.1, page 73)

The authors also concede leaving out geriatric care, recently found to be $60,000-$90,000/yr/prisoner (various studies). Add $225,000 per case, present valued at $15, 000/year/case for 15 years (my analysis). Geriatric care begins at age 50-55 for prisoners.

The authors should have calculated the cost savings of plea bargains to a life sentence in 20% of the death eligible cases, which accrues as a cost savings for the death penalty. Rough estimate of $40,000 cost saving per plea bargain, an average of $8000/case or 20% of $40,000, although I think the number is too low.

What the study really tells us is that an actual life sentence costs much more than a death sentence.

The study finds that it costs $2.16 million per execution, if you roll the cost of every death penalty cases into only one execution. Specifically, if you have 10 death penalty cases at an "extra cost" of $216, 461/per case, over the cost of a "life" sentence, and you execute 1 of those 10 cases, then the study says that every execution costs $2.16 million more than a single life case.

It's absurd and misleading, of course.

One could be just as misleading and state that it costs $3.48 million per completed true life sentence (death of inmate), over the cost of a death sentence case, if you roll the cost of every true life case into only one lifer's death. Specifically, if you have 10 true life cases at an extra cost of $348,539/per case, over the cost of a death sentence, and 1 of those 10 lifers had died, then every completed true life case costs $3.48 million more than a single death sentenced case. (2)

Just as absurd and misleading, but that is just how that $2.16 million figure was calculated.

NOTE: This highly deceptive presentation of the death penalty costing $2.1 million dollars more than a life sentence has been used extensively and very publically by anti death penalty activists, for many years. I have found no evidence that the authors of the study ever tried to correct this obvious perversion of their study, although I would find it very hard to believe that they were unaware of it.

Incredibly, New Mexico's irresponsible and/or dishonest Legislative Finance Committee used this Duke study as the only one to show that the death penalty was more expensive than life without parole.





(1) "The Costs of Processing Murder Cases in North Carolina"

(2) The $348, 539, reflects the cost a true life sentence over the death penalty, based upon costs and credits for true life incarceration (add $332,000 for life), geriatric care (add $225, 000 for life ), & plea bargain savings ($8000 death penalty credit) combined with the studies <$216, 461>. or $565, 000 - $216, 461 = $348,000 more for a true life sentence. My analysis.

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copyright 1998-2016, Dudley Sharp

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Dudley Sharp

e-mail 832-439-2113,
Houston, Texas

Mr. Sharp has appeared on ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN, C-SPAN, FOX, NBC, NPR, PBS, VOA and many other TV and radio networks, on such programs as Nightline, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, The O'Reilly Factor, etc., has been quoted in newspapers throughout the world and is a published author.

A former opponent of capital punishment, he has written and granted interviews about, testified on and debated the subject of the death penalty, extensively and internationally.