Is money really the reason to eliminate the death penalty?

For years I've been against the death penalty for the simple reason that, if it ever turns out the judicial system made a mistake on a particular case, the sentence is irrevocable. That is, the death penalty implies a level of judicial reliability that is unattainable. My opposition to the death penalty is opposition to the idea of the infallibility of authority.

John van de Camp (former DA of LA and AG for CA) wrote an interesting LA Times opinion piece claiming that the death penalty costs California $125m/year, and that it should therefore be eliminated. My reaction to this was a complex mix of happy surprise, doubt, and disgust. His claim is that California could save one billion dollars in 5 years.

Put in such stark terms, the elimination of the death penalty seems like a no-brainer. The generally conservative people in favor of death penalty also tend to be fiscally conservative, and this becomes "easy money".

But I also have a hard time believing van de Camp's numbers. Why would it cost an extra $90k per  prisoner to have them on death row? Where does that money go? Could that possibly be true?

If it is true, van de Camp's article becomes less of an argument against the death penalty and more an expose about the inordinate costs of doing some as simple as killing people. I mean, I don't want the state to kill people, but I also don't understand why it costs so much to do it.

In truth, I think that van de Camp is right. In a way I'm glad the state is so incompetent that it makes this decision easy. I'd prefer it, of course, if the state was both competent AND wise. But if incompetence paths the path for wisdom, so be it.


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