During this time when the Missouri Legislature is working to attain a balanced budget without cutting needed services, it is important to know the cost of all public policies carried out by the state. Missouri has had the death penalty for over 35 years, but has never done an examination of what it costs the taxpayers.
What the death penalty could be costing our state was brought home to me in an article written by Stan Garnett, district attorney in Colorado's 20th judicial district.
Garnett describes himself as neither morally nor philosophically opposed to the death penalty and leaves no doubt that his office will uphold the ultimate punishment as long as it is the law of Colorado.
However, Garnett sees practical problems with the death penalty, such as the time involved and the arbitrariness of who gets the death penalty. What worries him most is the daunting cost. In Colorado, prosecuting a death case through a verdict in the trial court can cost the prosecution well over $1 million.
Other states tell similar stories. Maryland prosecutors disclosed recently that a single death penalty trial costs almost $2 million more than the cost of a non-death penalty trial. When retrials and appeals are added, Maryland taxpayers spent $37.2 million each for the five executions carried out by the state.
In Missouri, the state budget is strained to provide Medicaid services to poor citizens. Education needs are never fully funded. Thus it is time that we too begin questioning the cost of the death penalty versus a sentence of life without parole.
The General Assembly is currently considering Senate Bill 61, sponsored by Sen. Joe Keaveny D-St. Louis. This bill is calling for a careful study of how much the death penalty is actually costing Missouri taxpayers. Sen. Mike Kehoe is a member of the committee that will soon determine if the bill should move forward for further discussion.
Regardless of whether one supports or opposes the death penalty, it is a matter of fiscal responsibility for lawmakers to know the cost of this state policy.
Once the cost is known then lawmakers can have a reasonable discussion to see if this policy is something that the state should continue in these tight economic times.