Lighter Life Death

Is it more expensive to give someone the death penalty as opposed to life in prison?

In light of recent political debates, my friends and I got into a conversation about the death penalty. I’d like to know which is more costly. Preferably for the state of Michigan.

“More costly on death row than life behind bars is a myth….it’s never been shown to be true!”

I found this quote when I was looking for the answer myself. Is it really a myth?

Thank you
I just realized that Michigan doesn’t even have the death penalty. I’d still like to hear what everyone has found though.

Yes. The quote is mistaken. The death penalty is much more expensive than life in prison, mostly because of the legal process which is supposed to prevent executions of innocent people. And the higher security on death row is more expensive than in the general prison population. The largest part of the costs are upfront, before and during the initial trial. Many people wonder why the costs are so high- here are some of the factors:

• more pre-trial time will be needed to prepare: cases typically take a year to come to trial
• more pre-trial motions will be filed and answered
• more experts will be hired
• twice as many attorneys will be appointed for the defense, and a comparable team for the prosecution
• jurors will have to be individually quizzed on their views about the death penalty, and they are more likely to be sequestered
• two trials instead of one will be conducted: one for guilt and one for punishment
• the trial will be longer: a cost study at Duke University estimated that death penalty trials take 3 to 5 times longer than typical murder trials

Here is an excerpt from a state report (other states have similar findings):

Kansas: “The study counted death penalty case costs through to execution and found that the median death penalty case costs $1.26 million. Non-death penalty cases were counted through to the end of incarceration and were found to have a median cost of $740,000. For death penalty cases, the pre-trial and trial level expenses were the most expensive part, 49% of the total cost. The investigation costs for death-sentence cases were about 3 times greater than for non-death cases. The trial costs for death cases were about 16 times greater than for non-death cases ($508,000 for death case; $32,000 for non-death case).” (. Kansas: Performance Audit Report: Costs Incurred for Death Penalty Cases: A K-GOAL Audit of the Department of Corrections)

Sources: for links to cost reports from individual states (Click on costs) page 3 and 4 on why the death penalty is so expensive