This post is the first in a series on myths about the death penalty. I plan to present a series of arguments based on the best available research. For more detailed information, I urge you to browse the Death Penalty Information Center at deathpenaltyinfo.org.
One of the most frequent misstatements about the death penalty is its costs. Many individuals incorrectly assume that an execution is less expensive than a life sentence. Every study on this topic, including the one submitted by the New Jersey Death Penalty Study Commission, sites far greater cost when the State seeks and imposes a death sentence than when a life sentence is the outcome. Studies estimate the the cost of a capital sentence is 2-5 times that of non-capital proceedings.
The higher costs are associated with post-conviction activities, especially appeals. Attempts to limit appeals have failed to reduce the numbers. Funding for effective legal counsel, which could reduce the number of appeals, has not been forthcoming.
Another cost associated with the death penalty is its failure rate. One study estimated that 60% to 80% of death sentences are overturned - thus the most common way to leave death row is not via execution. Idaho currently has 19 individuals on death row. It has conducted one execution since 1976. The longest serving inmate has been incarcerated since 1981. It also has had one exoneration. Given the cost of trials where the State is seeking a death sentence, but the jury imposes a life sentence or when death sentences are overturned, the costs of the death penalty really soar.
Many people believe in the death penalty, but think that it is an ineffective crime control policy. A survey of police executives revealed high support for the death penalty, but very low belief in its efficacy as a crime control policy. Thus the millions spent of the death penalty could be redirected toward more effective crime control policies.