Study finds death penalty bad for the economy

October 20, 2009 7:27:53 PM PDT
A new report released today by the Death Penalty Information Center claims the death penalty is detrimental to the economy. The report says states can save hundreds of millions of tax payer dollars by abolishing executions.

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The Death Penalty Information Center concludes California is one of many states that wastes millions of dollars on the death penalty.

In California, the bill is $137 million a year to imprison and litigate the sentence of death row inmates.If they were serving a life sentence without parole, the estimated cost to taxpayers would be $11.5 million.

Professor Michael Vitiello has been studying prison reform for years and says the savings could be used to make streets safer.

"Studies demonstrate that the certainty of punishment is far more important than the severity, so we can have more police, more district attorneys, public defenders," Vitiello said.

But voters in California approved the return of capital punishment and death penalty advocate Gov. Schwarzenegger says it is not a waste of money, even for his cash-strapped state.

"Justice -- it's worth the money no matter what type of budget crunch we're in, so I think we're going to continue with that until the people have changed their mind," Schwarzenegger said.

California's death row inmates are known to stretch out the appeals process for decades, racking up huge expenses for their lawyers, if they can find one, and their incarceration.

Attorney Ellen Eggers opposes the death penalty and represents inmates through the appeal process.

"There's parts of it you simply can't shorten; under the law, every capital defendant has the right to an automatic appeal to the California Supreme Court," Eggers said.

In times of deep cuts to education and social services, crime victims groups say they want to see death sentences carried out no matter the costs.

"Ultimately, it was the sentence they were given. If that victim is supportive of that, then the victim has the right to see that through," Crime Victims Action Alliance spokesperson Christine Ward said.

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