New Report Shows States Can Save Hundreds of Millions by Abolishing the Death Penalty

For Immediate Release

New Report Shows States Can Save Hundreds of Millions by Abolishing the Death Penalty

National Poll of Police Chiefs Ranks the Death Penalty Last Among Crime-Fighting Priorities and Least Efficient Use of Taxpayers’ Money

WASHINGTON - A report released
today by the Death Penalty Information Center concludes that states are wasting
hundreds of millions of dollars on the death penalty, draining state budgets
during the economic crisis and diverting funds from more effective
anti-violence programs. A nationwide poll of police chiefs conducted by RT
Strategies, released with the report, found that they ranked the death penalty
last among their priorities for crime-fighting, do not believe the death
penalty deters murder, and rate it as the least efficient use of limited
taxpayer dollars.    

Read "Smart on Crime: Reconsidering the
Death Penalty in a Time of Economic Crisis."

"With
many states spending millions to retain the death penalty, while seldom or
never carrying out an execution, the death penalty is turning into a very
expensive form of life without parole. At a time of budget shortfalls, the
death penalty cannot be exempt from reevaluation alongside other wasteful
government programs that no longer make sense," said Richard C. Dieter,
Executive Director of the Death Penalty Information Center and the report's
author.

"The
death penalty is a colossal waste of money that would be better spent putting
more cops on the street. New Jersey threw away $250 million on the death penalty
over 25 years with nothing to show for it. The death penalty isn't a deterrent
whatsoever. New Jersey's murder rate has dropped since the state got rid
of the death penalty. If other states abolished the death penalty, law
enforcement wouldn't miss it and the cost savings could be used on more
effective crime-fighting programs," said Police Chief James Abbott of West
Orange, New Jersey. Abbott, a Republican, has served 29 years on the police
force and was a member of the state commission that recommended the death
penalty be abolished.

Key
findings from the poll of police chiefs include:

  • The
    death penalty was ranked last when the police chiefs were asked to
    name one area as "most important for reducing violent crime," with only one
    percent
    listing it as the best way to reduce violence. The death
    penalty came in behind more police officers; reducing drug abuse; better
    economy and more jobs; longer prison sentences; and technological
    innovations such as improved laboratories and crime databases.
  • The
    police chiefs ranked the death penalty as the least efficient use
    of taxpayers' money.  They rated expanded training and more equipment
    for police officers; hiring more police officers; community policing; more
    programs to control drug and alcohol abuse; and neighborhood watch
    programs as more efficient uses of taxpayers' dollars.
  • Almost
    6 in 10 police chiefs (57%) agreed that the death penalty does little to
    prevent violent crimes because perpetrators rarely consider the
    consequences when engaged in violence. Although the police chiefs did not
    oppose the death penalty in principle, less than half (47%) would support
    it if a sentence of life without parole with mandatory restitution to the
    victim's family were available.

"We
need to stop wasting money on a broken death penalty and instead spend our
limited resources on solving more homicides.  My brother's murder has
remained unsolved for more than six years.  The death penalty won't bring
my brother back or help to apprehend his murderer.  We need to start investing
in programs that will actually improve public safety and get more killers off
the streets," said Judy Kerr of Albany, California.

The
extra costs of the death penalty, beyond life sentences, are often $10 million
per year per state. If a state spent that $10 million on hiring new police
officers (or teachers) at $40,000 per year, it could afford to hire 250
additional workers.

California
spends $137 million per year on the death penalty and has not had an execution
in almost four years, even as the state pays its employees in IOUs and releases
inmates early to address overcrowding and budget shortfalls. In Florida, where
the courts have lost 10 percent of their funding, the state spends $51 million
dollars per year on the death penalty or $24 million for each execution.

Executions
themselves are not expensive; it is the pursuit of the death penalty that
carries a high price tag. The higher costs of the death penalty process --
including the costs of higher security on death row -- are unavoidable and
likely to increase in light of all the mistakes that have been made in capital
cases.

In
2009, 11 state legislatures (Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland,
Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Texas and Washington) considered abolition
bills. New Mexico abolished the death penalty and Maryland narrowed its
application with costs as an issue in both states.

Both
houses of the Connecticut legislature voted to end the death penalty and one
house of the Montana and Colorado legislatures (where cost savings were to be
allocated to solving cold cases) passed abolition bills. The trend of states
reexamining the death penalty in light of the economic crisis is expected to
continue.     

The
poll of 500 randomly-selected police chiefs was conducted from October 29 to
November 14, 2008 by RT Strategies with a margin of error of +/- 5.1 for all
elites. The results of the poll were publicly released for the first time
today. 

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The Death Penalty Information Center is a non-profit organization serving the media and the public with analysis and information on issues concerning capital punishment. The Center was founded in 1990 and prepares in-depth reports, issues press releases, conducts briefings for journalists, and serves as a resource to those working on this issue. The Center is widely quoted and consulted by all those concerned with the death penalty.

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