Does California spend too much on the death penalty?

California has spent billions of dollars to execute killers since the death penalty was reinstated more than 30 years ago, according to an unusual study whose authors include a sitting judge.

The report by Senior Judge Arthur L. Alarcon and Loyola Law School Professor Paula M. Mitchell, said some $4 billion has been spent since 1978, which works out to about $308 million for each of the 13 executions carried out since then.

The figures include dollars spent on incarceration, legal proceedings and security on death row, the most crowded in the nation.

Alarcon and Mitchell found that under state, federal and local expenditures for capital cases, the 714 death row inmates cost about $184 million a year more to incarcerate than prisoners sentenced to life without parole.

Alarcon and Mitchell have predicted that the amount for keeping the death penalty in place has the ability to climb to $9 billion by 2030, according to a report in the L.A. Times.
However, the state says that tracking the dollars related to the death penalty is enormously difficult because of numerous variables and types of inmates. The Corrections Department suggested there was no definitive method of tracking the costs.

The report by Alarcon and Mitchell, called “Executing the Will of the Voters: A Roadmap to Mend or End the California Legislature’s Multi-Billion-Dollar Death Penalty Debacle,” relied on extensive data obtained from the Corrections Department.

For some among the public, the costs are daunting.

 “I think we are spending too much on criminals and that we need to stop,” says state worker Shane Grimshaw. “I think that money could be going to other places, where California needs it most, like helping small businesses stay afloat.”

According to the Corrections Department, the costs of incarcerating different types of inmates vary dramatically. The department does not break down costs by offense. And within the same population, a death row inmate in good health and a death row inmate in poor health are different amounts to house.

To deal with the costs, Alarcon and Mitchell say voters have three options: They can preserve capital punishment with about $85 million more in funding for courts and lawyers each year; reduce the number of death penalty-eligible crimes for an annual savings of $55 million; or abolish capital punishment and save taxpayers about $1 billion every five or six years.

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