CALIFORNIA – Cost of death penalty can be calculated

June 15, 2012 Source :

In his opinion piece (“Would repealing the death penalty really save money?,” June 10), Michael O’Reilley tells California voters that passing the SAFE (Savings Accountability Full Enforcement) California initiative on Nov. 6 would not result in any cost savings for the state.

Mr. O’Reilley relies on the same argument advanced by many proponents of the death penalty, which is that there is no reliable evidence that repealing the death penalty will save money because the “true cost” of the current system is “difficult to determine.”

For too many years, Californians have been kept in the dark about how much the state is spending on its broken death penalty system because, they were told, such a cost analysis was impossible to perform. That is simply not the case.

In our three-year-long, exhaustive investigation into the costs of California’s death penalty, Senior Judge Arthur L. Alarcón and I reviewed every available source of cost data. Our mission was to tell voters the truth about what they are spending on the state’s current system — one that has been described as “dysfunctional” by both the former and current chief justices of the California Supreme Court.

Our research revealed that while there is, indeed, a lack of political will when it comes to tracking these costs, there is no question that California’s death penalty has cost taxpayers billions of dollars over the past 34 years. We relied on court records, state budgets, and other objectively reliable data to calculate the costs associated with each stage of process from trials through final appeals.

The findings in our report are supported by the Blue-Ribbon Panel convened by the state Senate, the California Commission for the Fair Administration of Justice, which did a similar study and reported similar data in its Final Report published in 2008.

The following facts are undisputed:

• California taxpayers have funded roughly 2,000 death penalty trials over the past three decades;

• California houses more than 22 percent of the nation’s death row inmates, but has carried out no more than 1 percent of all executions nationwide in that time — 13 executions since 1978;

• The vast majority of condemned inmates die on death row before their sentences are ever carried out, which means that those inmates receive state-funded medical care for the entirety of their lives — an expense that Mr. O’Reilley argues (incorrectly) is incurred only under a life without possibility of parole (LWOP) sentence, but not under a sentence of death.

Voters must decide for themselves whether Mr. O’Reilley’s argument that the current system is a deterrent to violent crime that comes at no added cost to taxpayers rings true. Voters must also consider whether — when it comes to public safety — the current dysfunctional death penalty system is a good use of our state’s limited resources when more than 10,000 homicides committed over the past 10 years remain unsolved.

In the current economic climate, voters should not be satisfied with being told that it is impossible to calculate what the death penalty costs. Voters should demand to know the truth.

Mitchell is co-author (with Judge Arthur L. Alarcón) of “Executing the Will of the Voters? A Roadmap to Mend or End the California Legislature’s Multi-Billion-Dollar Death Penalty Debacle,” and lives in Los Angeles.

One comment

  1. The arguments in support of the ballot measure to abolish the death penalty are exaggerated at best and, in most cases, misleading and erroneous. The Act would only make our prisons less safe for both other prisoners and prison officials, significantly increase the costs to taxpayers due to life-time medical costs, the increased security required to coerce former death-row inmates to work, etc. The amount “saved” in order to help fund law enforcement is negligible and only for a short period of time. Bottom line, the “SAFE” Act is an attempt by those who are responsible for the high costs and lack of executions to now persuade voters to abandon it on those ground. Obviously, these arguments would disappear if the death penalty was carried forth in accordance with the law. Get the facts at and supporting evidence at

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