Can Texas Afford The Death Penalty?

The newly elected Texas state legislature, like most of our States, is facing large budget deficits in 2011 that are going to require some creative solutions to solve. Unlike the federal government, Texas is required by law to provide a balanced budget. Texas legislators are in the unenviable position of considering new taxes that their constituents don’t want or cutting benefits and state budgets that will cost jobs and force hardships on those same constituents. Some states are beginning to look at the high costs associated with implementing the death penalty. Even though capital punishment is supported by a majority of residents in Texas, they might be forced to consider alternatives such as life in prison without parole for purely economic reasons.

Some Facts on Texas Executions and Death Row

The Supreme Court declared the death penalty unconstitutional in 1972. A year later this decision was overturned and the death penalty was reinstated. Texas executed its first prisoner after reinstatement in December 1982. Since then 464 people have been put to death by lethal injection in the state of Texas, more than any other state. The average time an inmate spends on death row is 10.6 years. The largest number of executions was performed in 2000 when 40 people were executed. All executions are carried out at the State Prison in Huntsville, an east Texas town of just over 35,000.

There are 317 persons currently housed on death row in Texas. Ten of these are women. The race of death row inmates is: 96 white, 94 hispanic, 123 black and 4 of other race. According to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice the following crimes are considered Capital Murder and thus eligible for the death penalty:

  • murder of a public safety officer or firefighter
  • murder during the commission of kidnapping, burglary, robbery, aggravated sexual assault, arson, or obstruction or retaliation
  • murder for remuneration
  • murder during prison escape
  • murder of a correctional employee
  • murder by a state prison inmate who is serving a life sentence for any of five offenses (murder, capital murder, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated sexual assault, or aggravated robbery)
  • multiple murders
  • murder of an individual under six years of age

The Death Penalty Is On The Rise In The U.S.

Texas is following the nationwide trend of sentencing criminals to death. There are more people currently on death row than at any other time in US history. This is a trend that is contrary to the other democratic countries in the world which, taken as a whole, have shown a marked decrease in allowing capital punishment.

Capital Punishment Costs Continue to Rise

There are a number of sources that provide the cost to execute someone in Texas, but it is generally agreed that a death penalty case costs taxpayers and average of from 2 to 2.5 million dollars. This is more than three times the cost of sending a prisoner to a high security prison facility for 40 years. The cost to execute all of the prisoners currently residing on death row would be in the neighborhood of three quarters of a billion dollars. The major costs associated with the death penalty are the appeals process that required by law. Capital Murder cases spend much more on all facets of the criminal justice process, from pre-trail preparations all the way to the final appeals process. Along the way security, jury selection, expert witnesses and additional attorneys required all contribute to the costs.

The exhaustive and expensive appeals process is in place to prevent the possible execution of a person innocent of the accused crime. In the last three decades 130 people have been released from death row in the U.S. due to exoneration by improved DNA examination. Just recently the case of Cameron Todd Willingham who was executed in 2004 in Texas for the murder of his three children by arson has come under fire. A re-examination of the case by the Texas Forensic Science Commission has cast doubts on the validity of the prosecution’s case against Willingham.

There has been an ongoing debate over capital punishment in the U.S. for many years. Normally it is centered on constitutionality or morality questions. With the current economic situation facing many of our states, the debate may not be if the death penalty is morally wrong but whether it is affordable.

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