March 2008 Archives

Maryland Death Penalty Costs

Many students are shocked when they learn how much it costs to adjudicate someone charged with a capital crime. How much is it? How much is it when the prosecution wins vs. when they lose?

Numerous studies have attempted to specify the costs of adjudicating capital cases and, as the General Accounting Office noted many years ago, research usually underestimates it. The latest study by the nonpartisan Urban Institute, entitled, "The Cost of the Death Penalty in Maryland" is probably no different but it does provide current data on Maryland's death penalty costs from 1978-99. The lifetime cost of sentencing someone to death averaged three million dollars, $1.7 millon of which is for adjudication costs and $1.3 millon for prison costs. This is nearly three times the cost of not selecting a capital eligible case for the death penalty. See the Urban Institutes abstract at

1 in 100 citizens incarcerated

The latest PEW report made the headlines around the country as the U.S. became the first nation in the world to lock up 1 out of every 100 citizens. Even someone from the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, could see that we are locking up too many people.

There is also an interview with the manager of the PEW Center for the States in the Washington Post.

This report, and the attention it has generated, reveals both the serious financial and social implications mass imprisonment has had on the U.S. and the utter stupidity and emptiness of arguments for a continued policy of mass incarceration.

This is, however, old news for us Californians. We've had a rate of incarceration over 100 since around 1988. See the basic data at the Attorney General's web site.

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