The Financial Cost of the Death Penalty

Examining the Evidence

Authored by: Gordon P. Waldo

Routledge Handbook on Capital Punishment

Print publication date:  December  2017
Online publication date:  December  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138651579
eBook ISBN: 9781315624723
Adobe ISBN:


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From a moral perspective, cost as a rationale either for or against the death penalty may be problematic. Many might agree with the statement that: “Cost, as a determining factor in a death penalty case, should be viewed as a smokescreen for other arguments…. Letting cost enter the equation—on either side—does a disservice to the very basic moral precepts to which everyone desires to hold” (Walsh, 1996, p. 37). Others, however, would say: “this argument misses the very point of cost analysis—figuring cost is the first step towards weighing the benefits of the death penalty against its alternatives … if there existed an alternative to the death penalty that claimed all of the same benefits, then society should choose the less costly method of the two” (Leeman, 2004, p. 20). Mark Costanzo essentially makes the same case when he says: “Capital punishment as social program must be defended … on the basis of a cost-benefit analysis. In the absence of compelling evidence that the death penalty … makes our streets safer, wise policy-makers should choose the cheaper option of LWOP and spend the savings on crime prevention” (Costanzo, 2001, p. 69).

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