Save millions by killing Ohio’s death penalty

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How many Ohio businesses run their operations with little regard for the expenditure of time and money? Ohio ignores both every time it sends an inmate to death row.

Richard Beasley, the so-called Craigslist killer, was sentenced to death on April 4, 2013, for murdering three men. Based on the average stay on death row for Ohio inmates, if Beasley is executed, his execution date could be as far off as November of 2032. Gauging from his physical appearance, he may die of natural causes before he is executed, and that would be a blessing for Ohio in terms of time and money.

In addition to appealing purported trial court errors, death row inmates pursue post-conviction proceedings before the Ohio Supreme Court and habeas corpus proceedings before the U.S. District Court. These post-conviction and habeas proceedings focus on procedural issues and consume years on end. All of this is required to ensure due process, but it’s expensive.

An army of personnel is required to execute an inmate. In each case, the state is initially represented by two attorneys from the county prosecutor’s office and later by two attorneys from the attorney general’s office. Inmates are represented by two attorneys, whose fees were likely paid by the county, state or federal government, depending on the proceeding. To this group we add state trial court judges, Ohio Supreme Court justices, federal district court and appellate court judges, staff attorneys and other support staff for all these judges, county sheriffs, expert witnesses, parole board members (for clemency hearings) and Ohio Department of Corrections personnel. Before you know it, millions of dollars are spent annually to execute killers.

Alternatively, we could repeal the death penalty and award life sentences without the possibility of parole. The legal proceedings would end about two years after trial, and, even when factoring in the cost of incarceration, total savings would easily be tens of millions of dollars annually. Families of victims would also have closure much sooner. As it stands, closure is dependent on a seemingly never ending and bewildering series of legal proceedings.

In April 2012, Connecticut joined 16 other states and the District of Columbia by abolishing the death penalty. Cost was an issue. The Huffington Post reported that repealing the death penalty is expected to save the state $850,000 a year in the next two years and $5 million in subsequent years, presumably after the few remaining death row inmates are executed.

On May 3, Maryland abolished the death penalty. A 2008 study by the Urban Institute concluded that a death penalty case costs Maryland approximately $1.9 million more than a non-death penalty case.

Maryland has only five inmates on death row, and Connecticut has 11. The expenses of capital punishment for these states pale in comparison to Ohio, where we have 141 inmates on death row. If we were to study the cost, it would likely be jaw-dropping.

Yet capital punishment continues because it satisfies our need for retribution. Believing that killers should be eliminated is reassuring in a violent world.

Still, how many citizens would advocate death if they knew the real cost? Most people have no idea what the death penalty costs us; based on talks with several state representatives, this includes most elected officials in the General Assembly. The problem is that the total costs of execution are hidden, not purposefully, but because they are not segregated in separate line items in county and state budgets.

A federal appellate judge said it well: “[T]he choice to pay for the death penalty is a choice not to pay for other public goods like roads, schools, parks, public works.”

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