A Quick Take on the Costs of the Death Penalty

Readership: anyone interested in $ and the death penalty. There is a Red Pill angle at the end. 

Many people claim that the death penalty, or at least the cost of execution, is too expensive, and that the death penalty should be abolished due to its costs.

I do not find the argument to be convincing, for many different reasons, the most important being that you cannot put a price tag on Justice and/or deterrence. Other reasons are that the costs can be significantly reduced by decreasing the time spent awaiting execution, by executing inmates more often, by limiting post-trial appeals, and by restructuring “death row” itself.

For cases where the death penalty, or life in prison (or very long sentences) are at stake, you have similar up-front costs. Trials take up many resources, such as time (taken away from other matters), money (from pro rata salaries of personnel, for witnesses, for filings, etc.), witnesses, expert witnesses, juries, numerous appeals, more time, etc.

Every inmate will have similar shared costs: 3 meals a day X days served; healthcare costs, and “opportunity costs” of taking up space of other convicts. The average cost of an inmate per one year, nationwide, is $31,000 (and can be as much as $60,000 , depending on the state). California costs at least $75,000 a year per inmate. Deathrow inmates will cost an additional $90,000 per year.

When it comes to the cost of the cases themselves, cases where the death penalty isn’t sought cost roughly $740,000 on average. A death penalty case will cost about $1,260,000. I do not believe these figures account for the last minute appeals of writs of execution, and the frantic hassle that comes with them.

The average inmate sentenced to execution sits on death row for 15 years. California, which has 700 inmates on death row, and also has higher than average costs of confinement, has not carried out an execution in 13 years. In fact, California has more on death row now than people they have executed in its entire history.


Using the figures from above, here are the costs:

  • Life sentence, or 40 year + sentence:
    • Trial: $740,000
    • Average cost of incarceration: $31,000 x 40 years = 1,240,000
    • Total average cost of a life sentence = $ 1,980,000
  • Death sentence
    • Trial: $1,260,000
    • Incarceration for 15 years
      • $31,000 x 15 years = $465,000
        • costs so far: $ 1,725,000
      • Death row costs $90,000 x 15 years = $1,350,000
    • Total average cost $ 3,075,000

On its face, a death sentence is approximately $1,000,000 per inmate more expensive than a life sentence. In States such as California, where inmates are rarely executed, and the cost of incarceration is far more, the cost of incarceration could approach $10,000,000 per inmate over an inmates prison life.

The problem is that the bulk of the costs for inmates sentenced to death is keeping the inmates in special units on death row, which requires more staff, resources, and space. In fact, the special treatment for inmates on death row is the difference when it comes to costs – a life sentence is roughly just as much as a potential execution, if the costs of death row are reduced.

You can also reduce costs by reducing the time between sentencing and execution (which should be less than 5 years in my opinion – it is cruel to separate the punishment from the crime).

If we did that, the costs would be

  • Death sentence
    • Trial: $1,260,000
    • Incarceration for 55 years
      • $31,000 x 5 years = $155,000
        • costs so far: $ 1,415,000
      • Death row costs $90,000 x 5 years = $450,000
    • Total average cost $ 1,865,000


The Red Pill angle: the topic of the Death Penalty is fun, as liberals will quickly point to the Innocence Project, and false confessions, false accusations, and wrongful evidence leading to exonerations. The fun with those arguments are the numerous false rape allegations (racially charged) made (by white women). Here is one example of a false rape accusation.

Posted in LAW

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