Alabama – High cost of death penalty

april 11, 2012  source :

With states like Alabama having to slash services over monetary woes, it’s an appropriate time to reconsider the high costs of the death penalty.

Many TimesDaily readers have expressed the opinion that Sheffield native and death row inmate Tommy Arthur has been in the news much too often in recent months.

They are tired of the seemingly endless appeals process that has allowed a convicted killer to remain on death row for 29 years. Since Arthur was sentenced in 1983, the courts have upheld his conviction in a murder-for-hire plot involving Muscle Shoals resident Troy Wicker. But at the same time, Arthur has avoided execution five times through the appeals process, most recently in late March.

One reader asked how much the efforts to execute Arthur have cost compared to simply sentencing him to life in prison without the possibility of parole. That’s a good question, considering the dire budget situation facing the state.

The answer is not simple, but by comparing Alabama to other states we can get a rough idea of the price.

The annual cost to house one state inmate in 2009 was about $15,118, according to the Alabama Department of Corrections. If 70-year-old Arthur reached the lifespan of the average U.S. male, he would serve a total of 35 years for capital murder at a cost to the state of about $529,130. That does not include the cost of his initial trial.

A report from the Death Penalty Information Center offers what it says is a “very conservative” estimate of $30 million to reach a single execution. This amount factors in the millions wasted on cases where there is never an actual execution.

One specific example is Maryland, where a legislative commission recommended abolishing the death penalty after a study showed the state was paying $37 million per execution.

Much of the costs involved in executing an inmate revolves around exhausting every effort to ensure the person is guilty. As DNA evidence has proved in recent years, the state doesn’t always get it right. The fact that Alabama has no law ensuring access to DNA testing for people convicted of capital crimes and does not require that biological evidence be preserved throughout the capital inmate’s incarceration is among several moral concerns.

But beyond those moral issues remains the nagging thought that revoking the death penalty could make a substantial difference as the state faces a $330 million budget shortfall.

With Arthur and 198 other inmates on death row, the state Legislature should undertake an in-depth study of the cost specific to Alabama’s death penalty.



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