Sunday, December 13, 2015

North Carolina Death Penalty Costs (2004)

Update: North Carolina Death Penalty Costs (2004) (1):
More Nonsense from Philip Cook

From Cook's more recent cost study (1).

1) Cook: " . . . the goal here is to estimate the hypothetical financial and in-kind consequences of abolishing the death penalty on July 1, 2004."

"Lacking a crystal ball, I make estimates for the recent past and offer the result as a best guess about the flow of savings in the future, with the proviso that there is considerable uncertainty around this steady-state assumption."

Sharp: "crystal ball" "estimates" "best guess" "uncertainty" "assumption" "to estimate the hypothetical". 

Let all that sink in. That's the "study".

Cook doesn't provide any "assumptions", "best guesses" and "hypotheticals" as to how North Carolina's death penalty can save money over life without parole (LWOP). He wouldn't.

Since 1976, Virginia has executed 111 of her murderers, 70% of those so sentenced, within 7 years of appeals, on average (2), a protocol that would save money over LWOP, in all jurisdictions.

Cook is aware but not interested. 

On death penalty issues, Cook appears to be an anti death penalty activist, who happens to be an academic.

2) Cook: "If the death penalty had been abolished on July 1, 2004, state government expenditures for processing murder cases would have fallen by $10.8 million per year." (pg 28).

Sharp: The $10.8 million "hypothetical estimate" cost savings of ending the death penalty would be $0.09 (9 cents) per month per North Carolinian.

9 cents per month   --    1/3 of a penny per day - $0.003/day

For some perspective, the cheapest cup of coffee at Starbucks is $1.75, or 525 times per day as expensive.

My hypothetical estimates are different than Cook's. 

The social and economic costs attributable to ending the death penalty are just too high.

Cook's latest study has many problems, as does his previous one (3).

3) Cook: "Note that the bottom line of this analysis rests on certain "assumptions" about how the relevant actors would respond to the abolition of the death penalty." pg 29 "The "estimates" of potential savings from abolition are developed here as follows." pg 3

Sharp: Cook has no clue as to those responses, for which he assumes and estimates.

4) Cook: "I assume that the number of courtrooms, judges, prosecutors, and support staff would not be affected by the abolition of the death penalty, nor would the budget of the NC Supreme Court." "The abolition of the death penalty would have other consequences that are unlikely to be reflected in agency budgets."  p8

Sharp: In fact, Cook cannot state that there will be any net reduction in the state budget, which would be attributable to elimination of the death penalty. 

Cook finds a cost savings of $0.003/day/North Carolinian  -  a "hypothetical estimate".

Can Cook tell us that his 
"hypothetical" end to the death penalty will not result in net additional costs to North Carolinians, as costs accrue, as:

a) defense specialists would turn their attention to fighting against LWOP, for which there is a well observed movement to end LWOP, a movement which mirrors the attack against the death penalty, as Cook well knows; and 

b) there will be no more plea bargains to LWOP, which, previously, saved the cost of trials and appeals, as Cook concedes; with 

c) all potential LWOP cases will now, all, have to go to trial, dramatically increasing total LWOP case costs, as Cook concedes,  and 

d) causing a huge social cost problem, whereby some cases that would have, previously, resulted in LWOP, will, now, be given life WITH parole, by either plea bargain or trial, as Cook concedes; and

e) the case that the death penalty/execution is an enhanced deterrent over LWOP is solid (7) and, therefore,  the reality of the social and monetary costs of more innocents being murdered far outweighs Cook's "hypothetical estimates" of saving money by ending the death penalty.

5) Cook: "Certainly, the debate in other states that have considered ending the death penalty has included a discussion of cost. That was true in the two states that actually did decide to abolish, New Jersey and New Mexico, and elsewhere. For example, the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment recommended abolition of the death penalty in 2008, arguing its conclusion in part on the cost study by the Urban Institute (Roman et al., 2008)."  pg 2-3

Sharp: This reflects on Cook's lack of fact checking and/or his anti death penalty bias.

New Mexico's Legislative Finance Committee (LFC) used Cook's previous, misleading study on costs in North Carolina, not New Mexico's costs. So it had no effect on any cost debate in New Mexico, as Cook's study actually showed that LWOP was more expensive than the death penalty . . . in North Carolina  . . .  not New Mexico (4). The LFC didn't fact check Cook's study.

The New Jersey Death Penalty Commission NJDPC) found "The costs of the death penalty are greater than the costs of life in prison without parole, but it is not possible to measure these costs with any degree of precision." (5).

The NJDPC never looked at LWOP costs so it is hard to imagine how they reached that conclusion. Regardless, there is no savings amount identified. Plus, NJDPC made the same obvious error as other studies have, that is stating that death row incarceration costs are higher than general population cells. Capital murderers are most likely going to be in increased security cells, not general population. There is no evidence they looked at the costs savings of plea bargains to LWOP parole.

The Urban Institute (Maryland) made significant accounting errors in their study, errors, which when fixed, may have revealed no increase in costs with the death penalty (6).

Cook was, somehow, unaware? Did he not fact check?



 The death penalty saves more innocent lives, in three ways, than does life without parole (LWOP) (7,8).

6) Cook:"There is reason to believe that some of those defendants would have pled out to a lesser offense—second-degree murder, say—if the district attorney had lacked the leverage provided by the death penalty."  pg 2

Sharp: Precisely. Put plainly, more murderers will be released, increasing the costs of additional harm to innocents.  Murderers and other anti death penalty folks, like Cook, may cheer, but I suspect most North Carolinians would happily spend an additional $0.003/day to keep murderers on death row or serving LWOP, as opposed to being released, a huge additional cost.

Sharp: Since 1973, there have been 14,000 - 28,000 actual innocents murdered by those known murderers that we allowed to murder, again - recidivist murderers (two different recidivism studies from different years) (7).

Obviously, the death penalty provides increased incapacitation protection over lesser sanctions, thereby protecting more innocent lives.

7) Cook: "(deterrence) was set aside on the grounds that there is no basis for predicting whether abolition of the death penalty would increase or reduce the murder rate, and good reason to believe that the effect in either direction would be small." pg 31

Sharp: Deterrence is not measured by murder or crime rates. If it was then we would conclude that no potential crimes were deterred in all other countries, simply because, for example, Iceland has the lowest crime and murder rates and, therefore, no criminals in all other countries were deterred by sanction, because all other countries had higher crime rates than Iceland. 

Absurd, of course.

Deterrence is measured by there being lower net crime rates  than there, otherwise, would be without sanction. For example, if we ended all sanctions, would crimes and the crime rates go up? No rational person has any doubts.

Cook is in error by asserting that there is no greater probability of deterrence.

The evidence that the death penalty.executions deter some is overwhelming (7,8).

The evidence that the death penalty/executions deter none does not exist (7,8).

Death is feared more than life. Life is preferred over death. What is feared more deters more. What is preferred more deters less.

It is not up to death penalty supporters to prove deterrence.  The evidence is on our side.

It is up to deterrence naysayers to prove that the death penalty/executions deter none, which they have never and can never establish.

All sanctions, all negative prospects and all negative incentives deter some, all truisms and all well known, with the death penalty/executions being the harshest sanction, the worst negative prospect and the greatest of negative incentives.

Cook also avoids the risk to innocents, if we are unsure about deterrence. There is no balance in the sparing of innocents.

If we are unconvinced and there is death penalty/execution deterrence and we don't execute, we sacrifice more innocents.

If unknowable, we must execute, if innocent lives matter.


Rebuttal to follow on these two:

Deterrences (Donohue and Wolfers, 2006a, 2006b). p 10-14

"Isaac Ehrlich’s research in this regard has received the most attention, motivating the creation of an expert panel of the National Academy of Sciences—whose report was skeptical of Ehrlich’s findings (Blumstein et al., 1978)." 13

1)  Potential Savings from Abolition of the Death Penalty in North Carolina, American Law and Economics Review (Advance Access) published December 11, 2009, Philip J. Cook, Duke University

2) See Virginia within
3) "Duke (North Carolina) Death Penalty Cost Study: Let's be honest"

4) New Mexico's Death Penalty Cost Study

see also

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

7) The Death Penalty: Do Innocents Matter? A Review of All Innocence Issues

8) OF COURSE THE DEATH PENALTY DETERS: A review of the debate
99.7% of murderers tell us "Give me life, not execution"

New Mexico Death Penalty Costs

New Mexico Death Penalty Costs: Another Adventure Into Deception
Dudley Sharp

The anti death penalty folks just can't stop.

Not only did the New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee (LFC) fail to look at either their own death penalty or LWOP costs, instead, they used North Carolina's  misleading cost study (1), which had zero relevance to New Mexico, and the LFC failed to fact check that NC study, which actually found LWOP to be more expensive than the death penalty (1), the opposite of what the LFC stated.

Just another anti death penalty norm (2).

"Although a study has (never) been done in New Mexico on the total costs of a death penalty case to the state (including the prosecution, the public defender, and the extensive drain on court resources.), a recent Duke University study done on North Carolina’s costs found that the death penalty costs North Carolina $2.16 million dollars per execution over a system that imposes life imprisonment." (2)

Complete utter nonsense, of course.

The North Carolina study (1) found LWOP to be much more expensive than the death penalty.

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

2) F I S C A L  I M P A C T  R E P O R T, HB 285, Abolish Death Penalty, Legislative Finance Committee (LFC) , New Mexico Legislature, 1/31/09,