How Much Does An Execution Cost? Q&A With Richard Dieter, Executive Director Of The Death Penalty Information Center

by Kristi Eaton on April 27, 2011

photo by loraxsix/Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license

Twelve prisoners have been executed in the United States so far in 2011. Ending these lives was a costly endeavor. The costs associated with a death sentence — $3 million on average — are three times greater than the costs associated with a life sentence. Thirty-five states currently have the death penalty, but with many of the states experiencing budget shortfalls, death penalty cases are getting a second look in some states. Below, Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, talks with Out of the Storm News about the price of putting someone to death.

OOTS News: Many people don’t realize the death penalty can actually be quite costly. Can you talk about the cost of putting someone to death?

Dieter: Legally, every part of a death penalty case is more expensive than a regular criminal case: from preparation for trial, the number of lawyers appointed, the number of prosecutors, the amount of time, the experts, jury selection, the trials itself and the appeals. They are all more expensive. Even keeping someone on death row is more expensive than keeping them in prison because they are in a single cell and meals are brought to them. They are watched 24 hours. The only time you might save money in a death penalty case is if a person is executed, but other costs are so overwhelming by that time that it is so much more expensive to execute someone counting all the legal costs leading up to it than it is to keep them in prison for life. It is quite a bit more depending on what you measure per death sentence or per execution.

The death sentence is about $3 million where as a regular case is about $1 million for a regular trial and life sentence. A lot of people who get the death penalty are never executed.

OOTS News: Do you have numbers for the average cost to house one death row inmate per year?

Dieter: There is not a national average here, but the average for keeping someone in prison is about $25,000 per year per person.  On death row, the estimates are $40,000 to $60,000.  Those are the numbers I have seen from various states.  Some states have one person on death row and another may have 700 people on death row so they are not exactly comparable. I would say a fair guess of an estimate is $50,000 or about twice as much to keep somebody in prison.  It may be three times as much in many states.  But twice as much would be a fair estimate.  Just putting them on death row for 15 years is about what it takes to get to execution, which is comparable to 30 years in prison.  That is just the death row costs.  The appeals, the trials, all the other things are much more expensive. When they are not executed, what you are essentially doing is keeping them in prison for life. So you have got all of those costs with a very expensive trial and appeals cost to get there. It is life without parole in its most expensive form.

OOTS News: When you say most of them aren’t actually executed, is it because they end up dying on death row?

Dieter: A few do, but more cases are overturned on appeal. The sentence is overturned. They get a new sentencing hearing or they just reduce it to life.  In one study of the death row all over the country, two-thirds of the cases are overturned on appeal. Then when they are redone, about 80 percent get life the second time around. Most are overturned and most get life sentence when they are overturned. Most people aren’t executed even when they get the death sentence.  Over the course of the death penalty, of the sentence that have been handed down, less than 15 percent have been executed. Some are still on death row, but some of those are going to be overturned. Some get clemency, some die, it is legal changes, but overwhelmingly there are legal reversals that change it.

OOTS News: You mentioned a little bit about what it is like cost-wise with death row versus life in prison.  Can you talk a bit about cost of someone on death row versus life in prison?

Dieter: Death row is the highest form of security incarceration, because there is a chance of suicide, there is a single cell. Their meals and legal things are brought to them. If they have a visitor, they are shackled and escorted by two guards. They do not work in the prison generally, so there is no help for the prison like with meals. So that is not a way to efficiently run the prison. That is the most expensive form. But the myth is that they will be executed soon and so we don’t have them in the programs for rehabilitation.  The reality is it will be 15 years or maybe longer before they are executed. So they are doing much of a life sentence in prison, but the number of guards for an inmate on death row is going to be higher than any place else.

OOTS News: What about the actual cost of executing?  Is that an expensive endeavor?

Dieter: The chemicals are a few hundred dollars. There have to have some extra guards on that day, so there is overtime. We are talking thousands of dollars perhaps. It is a small part compared to the millions it takes to get there. That is a relative short thing.

OOTS News: I know several states are dealing with tight budget issues or going over budget. How are they coping with that in terms of the death penalty?

Dieter: Some states are considering abolishing it. Illinois this year in 2011 voted to abolish the death penalty and costs were one of the big factors. The governor hasn’t signed that bill yet.  When he does they will be done. They were spending about $100 million since 2003 and that is not even all of their expenses. So they voted it out. There were lots of reasons, but cost was one. Other states are going to be considering that this year, too.

OOTS News: Do you anticipate more states abolishing it?

Dieter: Yes, I think Maryland will look at that very soon. Their governor is opposed to the death penalty and he was just reelected by an overwhelming majority.  They came very close in previous legislatures. I think it will happen. In Connecticut, the legislature voted to abolish the death penalty. Their governor vetoed it two years ago, but now they have a new governor who said he would sign it. They are likely to take that route as well. A few other states are getting close such as Colorado and Montana. Again, there will be more states, especially when you don’t see anything coming out of it — no executions in a year, or one in a year and cases overturned. Fifteen to 20 years from sentencing to execution is very, very expensive form of imprisonment with occasionally somebody getting executed, but most people not.

Related Articles

  • Richard Dieter is a liar!

  • nnnnU.S. states that repeal death penalty laws do not seena significant savings in trial costs. In states where the death penalty is thenmaximum punishment, a larger number of defendants are willing to plead guiltynand receive a life sentence. The greater cost of trials where the prosecutionndoes seek the death penalty is offset, at least in part, by the savings fromnavoiding trial altogether in cases where the defendant pleads guilty. n

  • Richard Dieter should move to Brazil or the European Union since he doesn’t want the death penalty. Let him go and rot in hell! n

  • theillusionist

    Justice Xu…you’re a moron. It’s not the stone age anymore, the death penalty is out. You say the death penalty is justice, and then think a guy should be deported for his beliefs? Yeah, that’s justice. No one cares about your hateful spiel so just get over it and try to understand that the death penalty just has too many downsides.

  • Killer_2_dope

    this is just stuptid…just kill them and get it over with screw all the wainting…this is ohio u kill u schould be killed…no qushtions asked

  • Newhallcori

    Wow, how pathetic these costs are!u00a0Why don’tu00a0they tryu00a0increasingu00a0penalties for certain crimes, then maybe criminals will think twice about commiting them. Obviouslyu00a0theu00a0problem here is that there’s too many damnu00a0liberals.

  • Roachmancsu

    there is no downside, the downside is strapped to the backs of taxpayers in the current system. Go to an eye for an eye penalty. You kill someone, you get shot in the head, you car jack someone you lose your arm, you rape someone you loseu00a0 your manhood /womanhood!! its that simple . So sick of people like yourself that allow the convicts to have more rights than theu00a0 law abiding people citizens. Yeah let them rot in prison at about a 40 grand a person thats real smart. Shoot them and get it over with, the normal reply i will get is ” oh thats inhumane” what a joke!!!!u00a0What about the people they killed or raped? someones mom, dad sister,brother wife, husband kid ect ect was it a humane act that took their lives or ruined them. Give me a break, between the illegals and the idiots this country will be in toilet by the time obama is done his second term. I say second term because all of the illegals he is letting stay here will vote for him and he will win in a landslide!

  • Driveby Stabbing

    We should skip the trial too.u00a0 Don’t evem bother arresting them.u00a0 Just shoot them in the back.u00a0 No questions.

  • Driveby Stabbing

    and you should move to China

  • Driveby Stabbing

    we should pay the lawyers less

  • Driveby Stabbing

    So the gangs that are committing these violent crimes are just a bunch of bleeding-heart liberal tree huggers – NO!u00a0 They are conservatives.u00a0 Pro gun, pro violence, and no care for the weak, for treesu00a0or the spotted owl.u00a0 Instead of killing these conservatives we should give them life and put them to work.

  • http://www.animadvert.co.uk/2011/09/execution-economics-rick-perry-maths/ Execution Economics: The Rick Perry Maths | animadvert

    [...] https://outofthestormnews.com/2011/04/27/how-much-does-an-execution-cost-qa-with-richard-dieter-execu... [...]

  • Erika C!

    killing wouldnt be the RIGHT thing to do sir!

  • Calvin726

    The death penalty may have downsides but only because there are two options to begin with.u00a0 Get rid of the life in prison mentality.u00a0 u00a0 I agree that cruel and unusual punishmentu00a0is out, so no more drawing andu00a0quartering people.u00a0 we are talking about an eye for an eye.u00a0 Killing someone has been out since whenever man started thinking straight.u00a0 Whyu00a0should they be allowed to sit in their cell and liveu00a0outu00a0THEIR natural life when they took someone else’s unaturally?u00a0 murders and rapist overu00a0 the age of 16, get death penalty after evidence that is factual and tangible (no “he looks like the guy who did it”)u00a0 DNA, video, fingerprints, etc.nI totally agree with not giving rights to people who forfeited them when they took someone else’s.u00a0

  • Calvin726

    The death penalty may have downsides but only because there are two options to begin with.u00a0 Get rid of the life in prison mentality.u00a0 u00a0 I agree that cruel and unusual punishmentu00a0is out, so no more drawing andu00a0quartering people.u00a0 we are talking about an eye for an eye.u00a0 Killing someone has been out since whenever man started thinking straight.u00a0 Whyu00a0should they be allowed to sit in their cell and liveu00a0outu00a0THEIR natural life when they took someone else’s unaturally?u00a0 murders and rapist overu00a0 the age of 16, get death penalty after evidence that is factual and tangible (no “he looks like the guy who did it”)u00a0 DNA, video, fingerprints, etc.nI totally agree with not giving rights to people who forfeited them when they took someone else’s.u00a0

  • yukon

    why should it take 15 years to put them away. Lawyers gotta take there cut. If there found guilty put them to death the NEXT DAY. If they have DNA and there’s no doudt, knock em out. Good job Roachmancsu

  • Debater104

    Thank You!!!nI am doing a debate project in school, and it is on whether or notu00a0 Capital punishment is even useful to the country, and this gave me some really great information for why Capital punisment is not good for the country, money wise.nTHANK YOU SO MUCH!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Debater104

    @Killer_2_dope….. Going to school and learning to spell would be the Right thing to do as well.

  • Bobbossen

    you’re a total redneck why wouldnt you just put them to work so they can do something usefull to society.THEY CANT DO THAT WHEN THEY ARE DEAD!!!!!

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