I've mentioned before the fiscal reasons for getting rid of the death penalty. A new study from the Death Penalty Information Center adds support to the argument that capital punishment is money ill spent. The numbers are pretty simple: a death penalty trial costs a million dollars more than a non-death penalty trial. One in three death penalty trials results in an actual death sentence, and maybe one in ten of those sentences actually results in an execution. So out of thirty death penalty trails, $30 million of extra expense, you might get one actual execution. The other 29 put the defendant in jail for a long time or maybe acquit, the same results we would have gotten from much cheaper trials that don't consider capital punishment.
Now don't forget the other practical and moral reasons for dropping the death penalty, like the lack of deterrent effect, or mistakes that execute innocent citizens. Even former Texas Governor Mark White, a man who pulled the switch 20 times, is seeing those reasons outweigh the "hang 'em high!" mentality that rules his state.
But with South Dakota facing a $200 million budget shortfall, the fiscal argument alone may motivate our state legislators to revisit our death penalty. Do we really want to let heinous criminals drain even more resources from our state coffers when we need to save every penny we can? Do we really want to spend an extra million dollars to try putting Ethan Johns in the electric chair? Why not simply convict him, throw him in a cell with potatoes for lunch and a new pair of glasses, and use the million we would save to pay our troopers more, or pave roads, or do some other good?
Fiscally and morally, the death penalty costs more than it's worth.
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