California Death Row Costs $184M Per Year

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on June 21, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

With California’s recent proposed budget cuts for the state’s courts, prison overcrowding issues and overall state of economy, perhaps its legislators need to be thinking about other costs they can cut.

Costs such as the $184 million a year associated with the death penalty and California death row inmates, for example.

A recent study, conducted by 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Arthur L. Alarcon and Loyola Law School professor Paula M. Mitchell lays out the real cost of the death penalty in California and estimates it at $9 billion by 2030.

Alarcon isn't an opponent of capital punishment by any means. He prosecuted many capital crimes in the 1950's, when he was Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney. He also served as clemency secretary to Governor Pat Brown. His former law clerk and co-author, however, is an abolitionist. Nevertheless, their research doesn't address the ethical or legal aspects of the death penalty but rather, a cost-benefit analysis of capital punishment.

The research takes into account records from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, records which the Los Angeles Times reports were unavailable to others who have tried to calculate a cost-benefit analysis of the death penalty.

The costs take into account things such as the actual cost of carrying out the death penalty as well as associated costs such as legal representation for the condemned.

The study proposes three potential solutions to the death penalty cost debate: The injection of $85 million into the courts in increased funding, to preserve the death penalty; the reduction of capital crimes at a savings of $55 million a year; or the abolition of death penalty for a savings of $1 billion every five or six years.

The truth is that many Californians would be reluctant to abolish capital punishment outright. At least that's what Judge Alarcon seems to think, reports the Times. But the other truth is that California is in a budgetary crisis and just last week, the California Superior Court announced that it would have massive layoffs if the budget cuts to the courts passed the legislature.

The State of California currently has 714 death row prisoners.

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