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Does Nixing The Death Penalty Save Money?

Earlier today, Governor Dannel Malloy signed a bill that made Connecticut the 17th state to ban the death penalty. With Connecticut’s populace overwhelmingly favoring the capital punishment, Malloy justified the move not on moral grounds but as a sound fiscal decision. A state agency claimed that it had cost Connecticut $5 million a year to run its death penalty system, which had executed only two people in the last 52 years. Can nixing the death penalty really save a state money?

A 2008 study (pdf) by the non-partisan Urban Institute found that it could. Researchers John Roman, Aaron Chalfin, et al, studied more than 1,000 death-penalty-eligible cases occurring over a span of two decades in Maryland. They found that, due to factors like judges’ wages and fees for specially trained attorneys, such cases cost taxpayers a little more than $1 million apiece when prosecutors did not seek the death penalty; $1.8 million when they sought the death penalty unsuccessfully; and almost $3 million when the sought the death penalty successfully. Previous studies had arrived at a similar conclusion, but using a far smaller data set than the Urban Institute researchers. Call it a rare convergence of convenience: the taxpayer-friendly option is also the moral one.