Friday, March 06, 2009

death penalty doldrums

I knew we'd find a bright side to our current financial crisis, but I had no idea it would come from death row. Earlier this week, CNN put together a thoughtful article about the fact that state budgets are so screwed right now that a number of states are thinking about putting an end to the death penalty. Hurrah!

I've always been an opponent of the death penalty. My biggest beefs with it are that it isn't enforced fairly; it costs a fortune to taxpayers; and, most of all, I believe in the "an eye for an eye makes the world blind" view of revenge.

But let's talk money, since that's the issue we face today. Many people still believe, wrongly, that it's way more expensive to keep a man in jail for the rest of his days than to put him to death. The truth of the matter is that a state's cost to process a non-death-penalty trial can be a million or more dollars cheaper than the cost for a death-penalty case. According to the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, over the last 25 years we've spent (and I do mean you and I, because taxpayers foot the bill) $253 million on capital punishment cases—way more than it would have cost if all the defendants had been given life without parole.

Death penalty proponents tend not to be very forthcoming about the financial costs of capital punishment. But the states themselves are now having to take a closer look; they simply can't afford not to. Of course, there will be opposition. But it's a small victory, in my eyes, for the anti-death-penalty campaign.

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