Wednesday, July 08, 2009

[indyweek] The high cost of the death penalty

This article was featured on the Death Penalty Information Center Web site.

by Matt Saldaña
Illustration by J.P. Trostle
June 24, 2009

The cheapest part of executing a prisoner is the killing itself.

The state's procedure of lethal injection costs about $500: $168 in medicine and syringes, plus roughly $340 for the doctor, who is present for three to four hours, according to the N.C. Department of Correction. (See details at end of story.)

Yet court fees related to capital trials, those in which prosecutors seek the death penalty for murder, cost North Carolina millions of dollars. The costs are incurred even if the charges are reduced or dismissed. Given the state's budget crisis, which has forced lawmakers to cut funding for education, social services and children's health insurance, money spent on pursuing death penalty cases arguably could be better used. Nationwide, several states, including Colorado and Kansas, are considering abolishing the death penalty to save money.

In North Carolina, Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham, recently told the House Ways and Means Committee, "We might want to, at some point, revisit whether the death penalty ought to be imposed, or whether we ought to impose a life sentence without parole, because it's a strong, persuasive and convincing argument when you talk about the astronomical expense of capital cases."

Between 2001 and 2008, N.C. Indigent Defense Services cost the state an additional $36 million when prosecutors sought the death penalty instead of life imprisonment for 733 people, according to the Indy's analysis of a 2008 IDS report. IDS is a publicly funded agency that provides private attorneys for defendants charged with capital crimes, but cannot afford a lawyer.

[View the entire article at the Independent Weekly.]