What's the total number of death row inmates and the average cost to hold them?
July 18, 2007 9:19 AM   Subscribe

How much money could be saved if California executed all the prisoners on death row tomorrow? What about the country?

So I've been trying to find state or national prison statistics on the number of people currently on death row and the average cost per day to hold them. This is unsurprisingly difficult. Most of the statistics I can find are either outdated by many years or don't include anything related to death row.

Any ideas?
posted by sipher to Law & Government (13 answers total)
Best answer: It isn't the cost of living in prison for years on end that makes current practice expensive, it's the requisite legal appeals process. This may be useful for the California statistics you're looking for.

Tempest, Rone, "Death Row Often Means a Long Life", Los Angeles Times, March 6, 2005
posted by B-squared at 9:31 AM on July 18, 2007

I heard once that it costs a million dollars to keep someone in prison for 30 years. No idea on how that works or what that does or dosent include.

A single bullet? a dollar or less
posted by Jacen at 9:36 AM on July 18, 2007

Best answer: According to this website the cost per California prisoner is $35,587, and there are 657 prisoners on death row. So a decent estimate of costs would be those two numbers multiplied. That doesn't count legal costs of course.
posted by ferdydurke at 9:36 AM on July 18, 2007

I should add that these costs are "per year." As Jacen notes, you would need to know the average time of incarceration for a death row prisoner to estimate costs "per lifetime."
posted by ferdydurke at 9:38 AM on July 18, 2007

ferdydurke cites a useful statistic, but the costs for death row inmates are far greater than those in the general prison population. Again, see the above LA Times article.
posted by B-squared at 9:42 AM on July 18, 2007

The article that B-squared mentioned can be found online here. Interesting quote from the article:

maintaining the California death penalty system costs taxpayers more than $114 million a year beyond the cost of simply keeping the convicts locked up for life

The article has more interesting statistics and quotes, so definitely read that.
posted by jayden at 10:08 AM on July 18, 2007

Most death row inmates are involved in an appeals process. If California or any other state cut that process short and executed someone before they had been able to fully pursue their appeal, they would almost certainly end up being forced to pay the family of the executed party a sum that dwarfed whatever they saved by not keeping him alive.
posted by Espy Gillespie at 10:20 AM on July 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you exclude the costs of legal appeals, which is what makes executions more expensive than lifetime incarceration (and, I suspect, also makes death-row prisoners more expensive than regular ones), I think that an 'average cost per year' like ferdydurke cites is probably not a bad starting place.

I'm not aware of any stats on 'time spent on Death Row' in California, but in Texas it's apparently nine years and six months.

So, assuming you were just going to take them all out tomorrow and pop them in the back of the head, Stalin-style, you'd save something like:

$35,587 (1/ prisoner year) * 9.5 (years) * 657 (prisoners) = $222,116,260.

That's just a starting value, though, because that's only the prisoners currently in the system; you'd also have the present value of the future cost-stream that you were spending on keeping prisoners on Death Row, because now you'd just summarily execute them and not incarcerate them at all.

I'm not sure what the best way is to look at that value; differing interpretations could give you either $23.4M/yr or $2.5M/yr (depending on whether you consider the 'savings' to be compared to the 'steady state cost' of running a 657-prisoner death row -- the larger number -- or just the number of new prisoners who would come into death row in a year).
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:26 AM on July 18, 2007

(I was taking on premise that any of the 'legal issues' would be worked out; i.e. that the executions would be legal and would not result in settlements against the state by executee's families -- obviously that would throw everything off.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:28 AM on July 18, 2007

Nice math, Kadin, however you have to jack that 9.5 average waaaaaay up for California.

Texas has already executed 18 inmates this year alone (#s 380-397), whereas California, as of June 11th, at least, hasn't executed a single inmate yet this year. This article from 2005 supports that - Texas was 10.4 then whereas California was 16 to 17 years.

The OP may want to start with the Death Penalty Information Center's resource page. Or maybe even contact them directly.
posted by allkindsoftime at 11:04 AM on July 18, 2007

$35,587 (1/ prisoner year) * 9.5 (years) * 657 (prisoners) = $222,116,260.


$35,587 (1/ prisoner year) * 17 (years) * 657 (prisoners) = $397,471,203.
posted by allkindsoftime at 11:17 AM on July 18, 2007

The important thing to remember is that, realistically, 222m isn't a lot of money. I mean, that's 1 Joint Strike Fighter. ;-)

But if you really want to save, and I mean SAVE money, I think you should also investigate eliminating all the poor, sick, and elderly people, plus all the religions that siphon money away from the state and the economy.

I'm thinking this has been done before, by like a guy in Europe or something, maybe in the early 40's? Can't remember his name though.
posted by TomMelee at 11:19 AM on July 18, 2007

How much money could be saved if California executed all the prisoners on death row tomorrow? What about the country?

I would say that it would be a net loss. It would be inevitable that we would learn that one or more of the executed was factually innocent -- since it is statistically improbable that nobody currently on death row would otherwise find themselves released -- and the resulting lawsuits would cost the state billions.
posted by solid-one-love at 1:15 PM on July 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

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