Death PenaltyCapital punishment, also known as the death penalty, is currently utilized within 31 states in America.

The purpose of capital punishment according to the textbook Criminal Law, are “deterrence, incapacitation, rehabilitation, retribution, and restitution.”  At first glance this seemingly simple definition of capital punishment appears to justify its use in modern times, however, this controversial topic is neither black nor white, rather, it is engulfed in a gray area.  Concerning the economic aspect of the death penalty, there are a plethora of cost arguments that explain how capital punishment is either more harmful or beneficial to some economic systems. Although capital punishment has sometimes been viewed as economically beneficial, there are far more harmful economic consequences in this form of punishment. Some of the economic inadequacies within the death penalty are evident when it is compared to life imprisonment, when it is used in counties, and when the costs of lethal injections are examined.A recurring cost argument in the death penalty debate is that it is more economically efficient to sentence someone to life imprisonment, without parole, rather than the death penalty. Presented in The Changing Nature of Death Penalty Debates, researchers Michael L.

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Radelet and Marian J. Borg announced that “research has firmly established that a modern death penalty system costs several times more than an alternative system in which the maximum criminal punishment is life imprisonment without parole.” The death penalty is  $1 million more expensive than a case where only life imprisonment is strived for (McFarland 57). These attributions indicate that using the death penalty over life imprisonment is not an economically efficient choice. Some may argue that although the death penalty is not the most cost-friendly, it is still worth the investment. Studies such as The Deterrent Effect of Capital Punishment: A Question of Life and Death  by Isaac Ehrlich, an economics professor at The State University of New York, indicates that the death penalty deters crime.

However it is worth mentioning that although studies such as Ehrlich’s found that capital crime is indeed a deterrent, others such as the Uses and Abuses of Empirical Evidence in the Death Penalty Debate, done by Justin J Wolfers – a Professor of Economics and of Public Policy at the University of Michigan-  find that it is unclear as to whether or not capital punishment increases or deters crime (Wolfers, Donohue). This indicates that more studies must be done to effectively determine whether or not capital punishment has a statistically significant deterrent effect.Much of the costs that arise from choosing the death penalty come from its “heightened level of due process,” as Robert L. Spangenberg and Elizabeth R.

Walsh put it in their article Capital Punishment or Life Imprisonment—Some Cost Considerations Although capital crimes and non capital crimes have the same trial levels the article explains that capital crimes are often more expensive and take a much longer time to carry out. “These costs are often explained by the “Death is Different” Doctrine of the Supreme Court, created in the Furman v. Georgia case” (McFarland 57).

The court case increased the requirements that states and the national legislature had to have in death penalty cases. A significant amount of the costs that states put towards the death penalty even include cases where “the death penalty is sought that never end with a death sentence, and cases in which a death sentence is pronounced but never carried out” (Radelet, Borg). This aspect of the death penalty is especially detrimental to small counties, where capital crime trials have a significant effect on their budget. The Budgetary Repercussions of Capital Convictions, published in the journal Advances in Economic Analysis & Policy, found that “counties bear the large and unexpected burden of capital convictions in part by raising taxes and in part by decreasing expenditures on police, and highway spending..

.” This research implies that the death penalty has negative economic consequences in counties since it causes citizens to pay increased taxes,  as a result of the crimes of another; capital trials in counties also result in the funneling of less money into beneficial public services and infrastructure, all of which affect the community where the previous changes occur. The death penalty is economically harmful when implemented in relatively small counties since it has such a noteworthy effect on their budget. Lethal injection is currently the primary method of execution in all states and the federal government within the United States. Since drugs are utilized in order to carry out lethal injection, the costs of these drugs are another costly factor of capital punishment. According to The United States Execution Drug Shortage: A Consequence of Our Values by Ty Alper, a Clinical Professor of Law at UC Berkeley,  “as more and more of these manufacturers—generally large, multinational pharmaceutical companies—determine how to ensure their products are not used in U.S. executions, states face a new and vexing obstacle to carrying out executions.

”  Drug manufacturers are becoming reluctant with having their products used for lethal injections, much of this is because lethal injection ” threatens the financial, moral, and legal interests of the corporations” (Alper). Drug manufacturers such as Akorn Pharmaceuticals and others in both the United States and Europe have been restricting the sale of certain drugs so they will not be used in executions. This drug shortage results in higher execution costs due to increasingly limited access to lethal injection drugs and expensive alternatives. Due to these realities, the expensive costs of lethal injections contribute to the economic unfavorability of capital punishment. Although there are many cost arguments against capital punishment, there are also arguments that suggest that the death penalty actually possesses cost benefits. In An Economic Analysis of the Death Penalty, a few of the economic benefits of the death penalty are analyzed- one being reduced crowding. The rationale behind reduced crowding is that if executions take place then there are fewer people within correctional facilities to pay for. Kasten estimated that, ” the death penalty saves $12,452,130 in reduced incarceration costs” (Kasten).

It is worth noting that this paper was published in 1996 and it used the annual execution rates during that time to conduct the costs calculations. However, in 2016 an article took into consideration the economic arguments supporting the death penalty over life imprisonment and found that, “the death penalty is more expensive in almost every aspect than simply incarcerating a prisoner for the entirety of his or her life” (McFarland 70). The 2016 study used more accurate statistical data compared to the cost calculation done in Kasten’s paper which were based on another study done in 1992. Overall, the death penalty is an expensive form of punishment when compared to life imprisonment and when the price of execution drugs are accounted for. In addition, capital punishment has detrimental effects on counties and their budgets. These aspects of capital punishment make it more economically harmful than beneficial in modern times. Life imprisonment without parole is currently the most cost-efficient replacement for the death penalty. It may be worthwhile for states and the federal government to further invest in cost sustainable forms of punishment.


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