Sunday, February 10, 2013

Saving Costs with the Death Penalty

Saving Costs with The Death Penalty
Dudley Sharp, updated August, 2016

updated 2019

The death penalty debate is rife with horribly inaccurate and/or misleading death penalty costs studies, some intentionally and obviously fraudulent.

I encourage everyone to fact check them, something that none in the media has ever done, instead, they just pass along the standard anti death penalty line, as is so common with other topics in this debate.

Could all jurisdictions save money by using the death penalty, as opposed to life without parole?

Of course.

Life Without Parole Costs

Most of the costs studies, intentionally, avoid both geriatric care and maximum security cells for death penalty qualified LWOP cases (1a)

In California, the medical care unit costs $80,000/yr/inmate, with the most secure maximum security costing $176,000/inmate/yr (see California, below).

In current year dollars, they are, considerably, more expensive.

With, at least, 40 years of LWOP, inclusive of pre trial, trial  appeals that would be way more expensive than the average death penalty case or any responsible death penalty protocol, as Virginia, below.

The Virginia Example

Virginia executes within 7.1 years of sentencing, on average, with full appeals, and has executed 72% of those so sentenced (108 out of 149), within the modern death penalty era, post Gregg v Georgia (1976) (1).

Update. As of December 2015, it is 111 executions since 1976, within 7 years of full appeals on average (1b).

Virginia's last execution, October 1, 2015, occurred after exactly 5 years of full appeals.

All states could do that, or similar, and save money over LWOP, with responsible management.


Contrary to consistent urban legend, an academic review, by a neutral academic, found that the verifiable costs in the oft quoted "Texas cost study" actually found the death penalty was cheaper than a life sentence (2).

I have told the Dallas Morning News (DMN), for many years, to stop using their totally inaccurate cost review. They still use it. DMN found that it costs $2.3 million per average death penalty case (for 5 cases), more than 3 times more expensive than a $750,000 life sentence. (C. Hoppe, "Executions Cost Texas Millions," The Dallas Morning News, March 8, 1992, 1A)

Problem is that DMN looked at the pre trial, trial, incarceration and appellate costs of the death penalty, but only the incarceration costs of life WITH PAROLE ELIGIBILITY.

That study looked a 5 death row cases. Texas has had over 1000 since 1973.

North Carolina

Contrary to consistent misinformation, the 1993 Duke study actually finds that LWOP is more expensive that the death penalty (3a).

This is 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.

An updated Duke study (2004) speculated that ending the death penalty might save each North Carolinian $0.003/day (3b).

The FLORIDA Example

What happens when an average of 29 years of appeals turns into 10 years for appeals?

Florida Adjusted Total Costs

Death penalty cases $500,000
Life without parole cases $1,953, 000

This is only a review of three cases, but represents the only effort at truly evaluating individual case costs in Florida, as opposed to some nonsensical reviews.

Note that the 10 year average for appeals, prior to execution, is 40% longer than the time in Virginia.


It doesn't get much worse than California or Nevada.

Nevada's Death Penalty Cost Study: How Bad Is It?

Death Penalty Costs: California

Ernie Goss' Nebraska Death Penalty Cost Study: How Bad Is It?


Cost, Deception & the Death Penalty: The Colorado Experience

Problems: Utah Death Penalty Cost Study


Yes, the "study" found that death penalty cases cost 70%, or about $500,000 more, per median case cost than for the equivalent non death penalty murder case (4).

However, the foundation was this: " . . .there was nothing we could look at to verify the accuracy of any of the data assembled for this report." (page 2) (4).

"Actual cost figures for death penalty and non death penalty cases in Kansas don't exist." (page 10) (4).

On pages 29 and 31 the study discussed methods of saving money.

New Mexico & New Jersey

For anyone that paid any attention to New Jersey or New Mexico, you know that neither cost nor the truth played a role in either states abandonment of the death penalty.

New Mexico

New Mexico wrongly used the North Carolina cost study (3a) to determine that death penalty costs were more expensive, the opposite of the North Carolina's study's findings. Obviously, an exercise in inaccuracy. North Carolina's death penalty costs having nothing to do with New Mexico's. New Mexico didn't realize that cost study actually found life without parole to be more expensive (5). There was no effort in New Mexico (5) to fact check the NC study. 

New Jersey

New Jersey conceded they could not, accurately, evaluate costs.



"DEAD WRONG: NJ Death Penalty Study Commission", Dudley Sharp, 2007,

"The New Jersey Death Penalty Commission made significant errors within their findings. The evidence, contrary to the Commissions findings, was so easy to obtain that it appears either willful ignorance and/or deception guided their report."


"Death Penalty Cost Studies: Saving Costs over LWOP"

Cost Savings: The Death Penalty



(1) Path to execution swifter, more certain in Va. , FRANK GREEN, Richmond Post-Dispatch, December 4, 2011 Page: A1 Section: News Edition: Final

(1b) Wikipeadia updates these executions. Be sure and fact check wikipedia. As of Dec 2015, the Virginia death execution information is accurate, Read the links for each murderer.

(2) Lethal Injection: Capital Punishment in Texas During the Modern Era, By Jonathan Roger Sorensen, Rocky LeAnn Pilgrim, 2006, U of Texas Press, p154-156

(3) (a) "Duke (North Carolina) Death Penalty Cost Study (1993): Let's be honest"

(4) "Performance Office Report: Costs Incurred for Death penalty Cases", A K-Goal Audit of the Department of Corrections, by the Legislative Division of Post Audit - A Report to the Legislative Post Audit Committee, December 2003

(5) New Mexico Death Penalty Costs

"Rebuttal to Governor Richardson - Repeal of the Death Penalty in New Mexico"

"Why did Gov. Richardson repeal the death penalty? His legacy"


The Death Penalty: Justice & Saving More Innocents 

Victim's Voices - These are the murder victims