California Death Row Costs $178 Million a Year


Somehow California manages to spend a whole lot on something it's not even doing. Our friends on the left coast haven't executed anyone since 2006 but they have more than 700 prisoners waiting on death row—the most of any state. More impressively, according to a new study from the Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review, California managed to spend $4 billion on death penalty expenses, with 13 prisoners executed since the reinstatement of the state death penalty in 1978. (54 prisoners, on the other hand, have died of "natural causes.")

Conservatives have plenty to howl about here; the cost of each prisoner's average of 25-plus years on death row is undeniably astronomical and an outrageous hesitation to just fry (sorry, inject) all the guilty bastards. Liberals can counter that this high cost further proves life in prison is a better way.

Those 716 death row inmates currently cost California taxpayers $178 million extra dollars a year compared with the cost of lifers. According to the LA Times, the study "also forecast that the tab for maintaining the death penalty will climb to $9 billion by 2030, when San Quentin's death row will have swollen to well over 1,000." To circumvent this, the study offers these options:


fully preserve capital punishment with about $85 million more in funding for courts and lawyers each year; reduce the number of death penalty-eligible crimes for an annual savings of $55 million; or abolish capital punishment and save taxpayers about $1 billion every five or six years."

Go here for the July issue of Reason and the whole mess of problems with the US's criminal justice system.

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59 responses to “California Death Row Costs $178 Million a Year

  1. So, uh, bottom line is that CA isn’t killing enough people to keep costs per execution down?

    1. Wasn’t the $4 billion fugure for the cost of “maintaining” the death penalty, including trials, appeals, housing, etc. for 700 inmates over 32 years?

      I do not support the death penalty, but to say that the 13 executions cost $4 billion is disingenuous.

      1. Noted and hopefully clarified.

      2. Noted and hopefully clarified.

        1. but you double posted, rookie mistake.

  2. Abolish. The goddamned courts can’t even find their own files, much less make life and death decisions with any reasonable semblance of reliability.

    1. Exactly. What would be more terrifying: being attacked by a T-Rex, or having your life (literally) in the hands of a government bureaucrat? At least T-Rex’s can only see motion.

      1. I’m not so sure that is true about T-Rex.

      2. This from the film that made a dinosaur the size of a chicken the chief predator? I’m dubious about all of their dinosaur claims, frankly.

        1. That’s what I told Willie…But he was like, “Oh, Johnny, Crichton researches everything he puts in his screenplays…IT’S A FUCKING FACT!”

          1. Not to be pedantic, but I believe David Koepp had more to do with the screenplay to Jurassic Park than Chrichton. Not going to dispute the point about the film’s inaccuracies.

        2. The Montana velociraptor raptor stood at at about 5 foot six (Half the length of 11 feet) and weighed about 160 pounds.

          Its claws were over 4 inches long.

          1. Chicken. I stand by my findings.

            1. Did you see the size of that chicken?

            2. *6 foot tall turkey

              /little fat bastard.

              1. Killer chickens?

  3. I wear black for the millions of Californians who have to suffer their shitty state government.

  4. Only California could make executing someone more expensive than imprisoning them for life.

    1. Nah: This is just what capital appellate litigation costs.

  5. Why not just put death row inmates in the general population, where they’ll be raped a few times a day? Is that not a harsh enough punishment?

    Of course, some of the inmates are probably innocent…

    1. BTW I think the state of prisons and of some prosecutors are deplorable, and that’s not a strong enough word. It just strikes me as ironic that “death row” treatment is probably MORE humane than the average prisoner gets.

      1. Also presumably they get a better crack at justice too, with the extra appeals.

        I don’t like the appeals to end the death penalty to save money, as it implies (truthfully, though) that we’ll save money by not giving them as robust rights of appeal nor as good treatment.

  6. need $450 million per execution in 2012, boys!

  7. Send these prisoners to Pima County SWAT. They are good at murdering people.

    1. Only innocent ones.

      1. Oh, yeah….

      2. …and we all know there aren’t any innocent people on death row.

        1. No we don’t.

  8. Death to people who fail at the alt-text!

    1. Everyone to Death Row!

    2. Lord knows I tried my best at it.

      1. hah, look who it is! Took me a second to realize you posted this…hey way to go!

        1. I hope I know you in real life.

          1. You do.

            1. Ha! I was hoping we would “meet” like this one day. However, just by spending too much time here amongst the commenting rabble, I reveal my unprofessional status. I have to go and pretend to not be paying attention to what people comment about now.

  9. On the other hand, Jerry Brown does deserve credit for shelving a proposed $356 million death-row facility at San Quentin. Nope, not making that figure up.

    1. How the hell does that happen? Why would they even consider building it at what has to be the most constrained and expensive site in the state?

  10. California has managed to spend $4 billion on just 13 executions since the reinstatement of the state death penalty in 1978.

    Just think of the incredible stimulative effect of that government spending. Without it California would even be worse off than it currently is. What about the multipliers??? What about the glaziers???

  11. Of course what’s unsaid here is that the savings from eliminating CP mostly comes from giving inmates minimal opportunities to appeal their convictions. All those people exonerated from death row would probably still be rotting in prison serving life sentences having exhausted their appeals if Reason and the rest of the antis had their way.

    1. Yes, that was my point. Advocating on the basis of “savings” is advocating that we should let the innocent rot in prison with life sentences because it doesn’t threaten our conscience the way that the death penalty does.

      I think that there’s a strong case already that if you’re innocent it’s better to be sentenced to death than to life in prison.

      1. Cory Maye would never have gotten a new trial had he not been sentenced to death… but Mr Balko (awesome in other respects) seems to have a brainfog about that little fact when he writes about CP.

    2. This is why I think the country should be defended by nuclear weapons — only nuclear weapons. People would be real careful about using them.

  12. fully preserve capital punishment with about $85 million more in funding for courts and lawyers each year; reduce the number of death penalty-eligible crimes for an annual savings of $55 million; or abolish capital punishment and save taxpayers about $1 billion every five or six years.

    The objectivity of this “study” is highlighted by the way the numbers are presented. Hmmm….I wonder which option the Loyola Law Review wants us to take.

  13. By Reason’s math, the NFL spends upwards of $3 billion per Super Bowl.

    It’s easy! You take the aggregate amount of NFL spending for the entire year, even that which has nothing to do with the Super Bowl, and divide it by the number of Super Bowls per year. Wala! You now have a shocking number to put in your headline!

    1. Told you!

    2. Since there have been 44 Presidents, wanna do the math on what that cost us?

      1. other than our souls?

  14. Drop a nuke on San Quentin?

    1. How about a money-making reality show: San Quentin Gladiators – last man standing gets a pardon to Tijuana.

      1. With an audience composed of the bloodthirsty denizens of Marin County.

        I can see Lars Ulrich giving the thumbs-down, maybe. Barbara Boxer not so much. Unless the gladiators were all Republicans.

  15. Only in this stupid state can shortening life expectancy doesn’t actually save any money.

  16. I could do it a lot cheaper.

    1. That made me snort Mountain Dew right out my nose. Thank you.

  17. Maybe they can start by just commuting to life the sentences of prisoners who whose execution date exceeds their life expectancy.

  18. This is probably as good a time as any to state, once again, and for the record, “Fuck California.”

    That is all.

  19. I’ve got a better idea: let everybody carry lots of guns, thereby instituting a de facto inexpensive “instant death penalty” for would-be rapists and murderers. Also, cut down the number of death penalty appeals allowed and bring back hanging and the firing squad as preferred execution methods; the former requires only a reusable rope, the latter only a bullet or two. Lethal injections are ridiculously inefficient and wasteful of financial resources. Also, run another referendum to legalize marijuana and let those morons in California smoke themselves to death.

  20. Gentlemen, the solution is obvious: we need economies of scale in this people-killing business.

    In all seriousness, Tulpa makes some good points: the vast majority of these costs come from the fact that the death penalty has such stringent safeguards to minimize the risk of executing an innocent. Eliminating these costs would not be particularly libertarian.

    Also as an aside, it seems difficult for me to accept the criticism coming from anarchs as anything but manufactured: an anarchistic society would have little use for a large penitentiary system, given its costs relative to its benefits, and would likely resort to corporal punishment and the death penalty in the case of malfeasance. How is a good ol’ fashioned anarcho-capitalist stoning any more justifiable than applying the death penalty only *after* a process that would almost surely pick up on more false leads than the anarchistic trial (or “trial”) would?

  21. How about a bonus system? Once the inmate dies the next of kin get cold, stiff, cash. And the quicker the execution takes place the more money the inmate’s heirs receive.

    Market processes, beyotch!

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