Cost of Death Row Considered at Capitol
By Charles Bassett, NEWS 9
OKLAHOMA CITY -- With the looming economic crisis facing the nation, some states are looking at abolishing the death penalty to save costs. Even some supporters of the death penalty claim it's cheaper to send someone to prison for life rather than execute them.
Currently, there's no pending legislation on the issue, but opponents of the death penalty argue there will be, claiming death row is costing the state millions.
Oklahoma currently has 86 inmates on death row.
According to the Department of Corrections, it costs the state about $25,600 a year to house a prison on death row. The cost for other inmates is about $20,000.
"Maximum security is a little big higher, said Jerry Massie of ODC. "You have more staffing, those sorts of things."
Opponents of the death penalty said those costs pale in comparison to the court costs for a death row inmate. Attorney Jim Rowan is with the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.
"These death penalty cases hog the courthouse," Rowan said. "They take up all the court time and people who are charged with rape and robbery and burglary have to wait years to get to trial."
New Jersey's governor scrapped the death penalty after learning it cost the state more than $4 million to execute an inmate.
A California study found that death row is costing the state an additional $60 million a year. Rowan is calling for a similar bipartisan study by Oklahoma lawmakers on death penalty costs.
"We as a people can make a rational decision on can we afford the death penalty," Rowan said.
The Oklahoma County District Attorney's office said money is never a factor when seeking the death penalty.
"I don't think cost is an appropriate consideration for the prosecution," Assistant District Attorney Scott Rowland said.
Rowland agrees it's probably cheaper to give a killer a life sentence, but argues those decisions should be left up to state lawmakers.
"When a state like Oklahoma has determined that in certain cases death is justice," Rowland said. "I think it would be wrong for individuals' prosecutors to determine it cost too much money to carry out justice."
The Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty said they'll push for legislation to study the cost next year.