California has rarely executed convicts since the death penalty was reinstated there in 1978, but the state has managed to spend $4 billion taxpayer dollars on capital punishment since then, according to a new cost analysis.
The study, conducted over three years by a senior federal judge and a law professor, estimates that the 13 executions California has carried out in the past three decades have cost an average of $308 million each in legal fees and death row security costs. According to the L.A. Times, a death penalty prosecution can cost the state up to 20 times more than a life-without-parole case.
Since the lag in California between a death row conviction and an execution now averages more than 25 years, and the state hasn't executed one prisoner since 2006, critics of the death penalty are wondering exactly what Californians are receiving in return for their money -- especially given the state's mounting budget concerns.
"Basically, they're paying for a life sentence, but at the cost of death penalty trials, death penalty appeals and death row incarcerations, all of which are extremely expensive," said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. "And everything else gets shortchanged because of this gold-plated death penalty -- state schools are closing, policemen are getting laid off, prisoners are getting freed to make room. No one would think having the death penalty was worth that much."
California currently has nearly 700 people on death row -- by far the highest in the nation. If the state holds onto the death penalty, that number could climb to over 1,000 by 2030, costing taxpayers $9 billion, the study estimates.
Other states have already begun to phase out the death penalty due to budget issues: New Mexico repealed it in 2009, Illinois lawmakers voted to ban it in March of this year, and lawmakers in Maryland and Connecticut are currently considering doing the same. But in California, state law requires a vote by referendum in order to repeal the death penalty.
"We hope that California voters, informed of what the death penalty actually costs them, will cast their informed votes in favor of a system that makes sense," the report concludes.