I'll admit that is the question which always makes me recoil deep inside. I will keep calm, because no argument is ever won by screaming with incandescent rage, but I'm sick to the stomach.
Maybe it's that I've made too much of a snap judgement, but all I hear is this: 'the value of a human life should be messaged not in justice, rights and all that twaddle, but in dollars.'
I do not share that opinion; and fortunately I also have the facts on my side. It can be cheap to kill someone, nobody is disputing that. If the individual is sentenced, then immediately taken outside and strung from the nearest tree, then it's very cheap indeed. At least in monetary cost.
The price in the loss of morality and justice was quite astronomical.
Worse case scenario would place a minor in life imprisonment, wherein he or she stays until they are in extreme old age. During this time, that individual would be sharing a cell, eating food brought and prepared in bulk. They would also be working, bringing in a wage which goes directly back into the prison system. (There's an argument that this is slavery through the back door, but few people really care about that one.)
On the other hand, the individual on Death Row is incurring many, many more costs. These include:
- Extra lawyers, judges, juries and the whole apparatus of the court-room. After all, these sentences usually go to appeal, time and time again, as a stay of execution is sought.
- Cost of hiring and attendant expenses for bringing in the right lawyers. In American law, there are strict requirements governing the experience and qualifications of lawyers in capital cases. The requisite attorney might not be locally available.
- The cost of retaining all court-room staff during lengthy appellate pauses. This usually occurs while everyone is waiting for the legally sanctioned lawyer to become free.
- Scientific and laboratory results. Those representing inmates on Death Row are far more likely to order DNA testing than, for example, blood sample tests. If the result is uncertain, then this can be repeated. Such professional input is very expensive.
- Paperwork and administrative costs. All of this evidence needs to be typed up, clarified and securely stored.
- Extra prison staff. People on Death Row are held in individual cells, with guards hand delivering everything from food to toilet paper. That requires a lot more staff than guarding people serving life imprisonment.
- Execution apparatus. Even once the inmate gets there, then the mode of killing them has to be paid for. These are huge costs, particularly now that countries like Britain have banned the export of drugs to be used in lethal injections. Those with the electric chair aren't faring much better. They have to pay a wage to electricians for a start; while everyone needs to pay doctor's fees, and coroner fees, and lawyer fees, and clerical fees (in both senses of the word), and security fees (there are going to be protesters outside) etc etc etc.
The US State of New Jersey stopped executing people in 1963, because each death sentence cost the tax-payer around $4.2 million ($6,129,405.55 in today's money). A former Californian judge Donald McCartin, who never stinted on sentencing people to death, ultimately called it, 'a waste of time and money'. He noted that it was ten times more expensive to impose the Death Penalty, than to go for life imprisonment.
In short, it costs an estimated $90,000 per inmate to house them on Death Row.