That may not, however, be true. "It’s 10 times more expensive to kill them than to keep them alive,"says Donald McCartin, known as The Hanging Judge of Orange County. McCartin knows a little bit about executions: he has sent nine men to death row.
McCartin isn’t talking about the comparisons between the cost of the actual execution and the cost of keeping an inmate in prison: those aren’t apples to apples comparisons.
It’s true that the actual execution costs taxpayers fairly little: while most states remain mum on the cost of lethal injections because of privacy concerns from pharmaceutical companies, it’s estimated that the drugs run about $100 (the Texas Department of Criminal Justice put the cost of their drug cocktails at $83 in 2011). However, the outside costs associated with the death penalty are disproportionately higher.
To begin with, capital cases (those where the death penalty is a potential punishment) are more expensive and take much more time to resolve than non-capital cases. According to a study by the Kansas Judicial Council (downloads as a pdf), defending a death penalty case costs about four times as much as defending a case where the death penalty is not considered. In terms of costs, a report of the Washington State Bar Association found that death penalty cases are estimated to generate roughly $470,000 in additional costs to the prosecution and defense versus a similar case without the death penalty; that doesn’t take into account the cost of court personnel. Even when a trial wasn’t necessary (because of a guilty plea), those cases where the death penalty was sought still cost about twice as much as those where death was not sought. Citing Richard C. Dieter of the non-partisan Death Penalty Information Center, Fox News has reported that studies have “uniformly and conservatively shown that a death-penalty trial costs $1 million more than one in which prosecutors seek life without parole.”