With state and local budget crises emerging and intensifying across the recession-wracked United States, jurisdictions are re-examining the death penalty’s high price tag, growing evidence of unreliability and concerns about wrongful convictions. Alabama is a counter-example, as its execution rate increases and careful review of death penalty cases is being restricted.
The Death Penalty Information Center reports that the death penalty costs Florida taxpayers $51 million a year more than would life without parole. North Carolina’s 43 executions since 1976 have cost $2.16 million each. Maryland taxpayers footed a $186-million bill for five executions. And in cash-strapped California, death row costs taxpayers $114 million a year more than imprisoning convicted people for life, and executions cost $250 million each.
Law enforcement officials have declared capital punishment a low priority, and some policymakers note that money spent on the death penalty could be better spent on police officers, courts, public defenders, and prison cells. Prominent judges are among those calling for reconsideration of the death penalty’s exorbitant cost.
Republican state senator Carolyn McGinn of Kansas recently introduced a bill to replace capital punishment with life without parole. Bills have been introduced in New Hampshire and Maryland; Colorado has proposed ending the death penalty and using the savings to solve cold cases. New Mexico abolished the death penalty earlier this year.
Meanwhile, Alabama has scheduled its sixth execution this year. Max Payne is facing execution on October 8th. He spent over two years in jail before trial because no qualified judge could be found to try the case. Mr. Payne’s trial was characterized by prosecutorial misconduct and the introduction of illegal and unreliable circumstance evidence.
Already this year, Alabama has executed more people than in any single year since 1949.
The increased pace of costly executions in Alabama comes as there are growing concerns about fairness and despite tough budget challenges in the state. This week, state school superintendent Joe Morton warned that the education budget will be cut for a third year in a row, while expenses are expected to increase by over $280 million. State officials are struggling to maintain funding for reading, math, and science programs in Alabama schools.