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New Study Underscores Exorbitant Cost of Death Penalty in Maryland

State taxpayers have paid $37 million for each execution

State’s failing death penalty is a ‘financial sinkhole’

Baltimore Sun Mar 7, 2008ANNAPOLIS – A new Urban Institute study has for the first time tallied the enormous costs of Maryland’s death penalty and should prompt lawmakers to repeal the state’s failing capital punishment system.
The study finds that the death penalty has added at least $186 million in costs – and likely much more – to the criminal justice system. Those are additional costs to the state, brought on solely by the decision to seek the death penalty and over and above the costs of cases where no death penalty is sought.

What have Maryland’s taxpayers gotten for their $186 million? A system that has clogged our courts, delays justice for victims’ families, and risks execution of an innocent person,” said Jane M. Henderson, executive director of Maryland Citizens Against State Executions.
“Our state has had five executions,” Henderson continued. “Each one of those executions has cost this state $37 million – money that could have put more police officers on the street, put more correctional officers in our prisons and provide needed support services to the families of murder victims.”

The vast majority of death-eligible cases in Maryland have ended with a sentence of life or life without parole – not a death sentence. The study found 106 cases in which the state sought a death sentence and failed – costing an additional $71 million to achieve outcomes that could have been achieved without the extra money and time required of capital cases. The study also found that the cost of each death sentence is $1.9 million more than a comparable non-death penalty case.

“The Maryland death penalty system is a financial sinkhole,” said Dr. Stephanie Gibson, chair of MD CASE’s Board of Directors. “We’re spending enormous amounts of money on a punishment that is almost never used. In reality, the death penalty is just life without parole at a far greater cost. So let’s get rid of the myth and start putting our tax dollars into programs that work.”

The study found that a single death sentence costs $3 million, or $1.9 million more than a comparable non-death penalty case. For that $1.9 million, or the extra costs of a single death sentence, the state could:

  • Put 46 additional correctional officers in Maryland’s prisons for an entire year.
  • Pay the salaries of 46 additional State Troopers for a year.
  • Increase funding for the Crime Victim’s Assistance Fund by 25 percent for the year, to provide better counseling, support, crisis intervention and other assistance to victims and their families.

Maryland law enforcement and victims’ advocates echoed MD CASE’s call to repeal the death penalty.

“The death penalty does nothing to protect corrections officers. Now, with these cost estimates, we know it may even be hurting them,” said Calvin Lightfoot, former Maryland Secretary of Public Safety. “After all, it was budget cuts that reduced staffing in Maryland’s prisons and led to the rise in prison violence that we now face. The death penalty is a diversion from the real needs of corrections officers – staffing, programs, and successful reentry – and it is an expensive and wasteful diversion at best.”

Vicki Schieber of Chevy Chase, MD, whose daughter was murdered in Philadelphia, said, “Not only does our state drag victims’ families through years of painful reversals, but it does so at a cost of millions of dollars – dollars that could be spent on providing meaningful help to families so they can really heal.”

“It’s time to repeal Maryland’s death penalty and replace it with the swift and sure punishment of life without parole,” Henderson concluded. “Maryland’s death penalty is just another failed government program that is sucking millions of dollars away from the things our citizens vitally need.”