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Facts Sheet: Cost

last updated February 6, 2004

The death penalty is expensive.

  • States estimate that one death penalty case costs between $1 million to $3 million, from the point of arrest to execution.
  • New York's estimated cost for each person sentenced to death is $23 million. 
  • North Carolina spends $2.16 million more per capital case than on a non-capital murder case.
  • Florida spends an average of $2.3 million on each execution and $51 million per year on the death penalty.
  • A study done by the Sacramento Bee argued that California would save $90 million per year if it were to abolish the death penalty.
  • In 1997, the com­pensa­tion for court-appointed attorneys in Alabama was limited to $2,000 for out-of-court-time. A lawyer who spent 500 hours representing a capital defendant would be paid $4 an hour. 

The death penalty takes money away from other needed programs.

  • In 1992, New Jersey was forced to lay off 500 police officers because it could not afford to pay them after spending $16 million on the death penalty the year before.
  • Because of one capital case, lawyers in the Madison County Public Defenders Office in Nebraska do not have time to meet with their clients, prepare adequate defenses and are withdrawing from appointed cases.
  • Florida's budget crisis led to the early release of 3,000 prisoners.
  • In Imperial County, California, the county budget officer spent three days in jail after refusing to pay the bill for the defense of a capital case. Paying the bill would have bankrupted the county.

Life imprisonment is cheaper.

  • A life imprisonment case costs approximately $500,000, including incarceration.
  • The average cost of a capital trial in Texas is $2.3 million--three times what it costs to imprison a person for forty years.
  • Studies in California, Kansas, Maryland and North Carolina have found that capital punishment is far more expensive than life imprisonment.

The death penalty would cost Minnesota millions of dollars.

In 1991, the Minnesota Department of Corrections estimated that reinstating the death penalty in Minnesota would cost:

  • $3,071,000 to construct a death row with 20 cells;
  • an additional $283,898 to maintain death row in the first year;
  • an additional $502,150 to maintain death row each year by the seventh year;
  • plus $1,800,000 to $3,200,000 in court costs for each capital case

Compiled from:
National Coalition to End the Death Penalty; Death Penalty Information Center; The Times Union; Philip J. Cook and Donna B. Slawson, The Costs of Processing Murder Cases in North Carolina; Palm Beach Post; Lincoln Journal Star; Amnesty International; Death Penalty Focus of CA, Stephen B. Bright, The Death Penalty: Casualties and Costs of the War on Crime; Richard C. Dieter, What Politicians Don't Say about the High Costs of the Death Penalty, Minnesota Department of Corrections, Fiscal Note, Feb. 21, 1992.