They sit on Death Row–forever

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Over the weekend I was preparing for a presentation I’m giving next week on the cost of the death penalty. The lengthy post-trial proceedings that follow nearly every death sentence likely make the death penalty more costly than a life sentence without parole. I say likely because Ohio has yet to study the cost of the death penalty, but other states have, and those studies conclude that the death penalty costs more.

As I was trying to determine the average length of time that 140 men and one woman have been on Ohio’s Death Row, my wife pointed out that, by default, our death penalty system has turned into a series of life sentences without the possibility of parole. Let’s look at the numbers to understand what she means.

Of the 141 offenders on Death Row, 28 have been there for at least 15 years. Twenty-four have been on Death Row for at least 20 years, and 22 have been on Death Row for at least 25 years. There is no duplication in these numbers.

The average age at death for an offender serving a life sentence is 59 years. The average age of the 22 offenders who have been on Death Row for at least 25 years is 55, and the state has put a moratorium on executions until 2016.  Some of these offenders might die of natural death before the state can execute them, which prompted former Speaker House Speaker William Batchelder, R-Medina to say,  when discussing a shortage of the drugs used in executions, “This is something that we cannot leave in abeyance, otherwise we’re going to have people who pass away prior to execution.”

While many Death Row inmates might be spending almost as much time on Death Row as the offenders, sentenced to life without parole, are serving, the big difference is the enormous difference in expense. Millions of dollars are consumed in 15 to 25 years of post-trial proceedings.  We keep repeating the process for each Death Row inmate. To what end?

In the business world, a corporate executive might ask, what’s our return on investment? What’s the comparable question for the time and money we spend trying to execute offenders?  Why aren’t our legislators asking this question?


Jack D’Aurora writes for


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  1. Bruce Lackey  March 10, 2015

    How dare they die before we can execute them. That is an insult to the citizens of Ohio. A pox on them (not the citizens, but those death row inmates that don’t have the manners to allow us to properly kill them).

    Jack – Keep up the good work on eliminating the death penalty in Ohio. How can I help?

    •  March 10, 2015

      Here’s something you can do. Join Ohioans to Stop Executions and lend a hand when asked. Here’s the link. By the way, I’ll be speaking to the Downtown Rotary Club next Monday about the death penalty.

  2. Jim Shively  March 10, 2015

    A small additional thought: if the state makes a mistake, execution has no reboot button. An acquaintance of my wife was prosecuted for murder and sat on death row for twenty plus years only to be released after is was discovered the prosecutor was guilty of malfeasance.

  3. Alan  March 11, 2015

    Dear Mr. D’Aurora: I invite you to read my recent essay, Understanding the Goals and Limitations of a Criminal Justice System published March 3, 2015, at The Examined Life found at Sadly, prisoners and criminal defendants do not represent a voting constituency warranting consideration from our legislatures. Regards, Alan

  4. Tarah  March 11, 2015

    Another excellent article, Jack! I chuckled at the comment made by Bruce. Jim made a great point about the “reset button”. You really shed light on the expense of the post-trial proceedings let alone the expense just to house/feed the inmates.
    Is there anyway to add a “like” button to the comments or even your article? I think it might be worth adding….merely for the benefit of feedback when comments aren’t made.
    I really do enjoy your insight.

    •  March 11, 2015

      Regrettably, the software behind my blog doesn’t make room for a “like” button, but my blog posts are also published in LinkedIn, which does provide for “likes.” Not a great alternative, but it’s the best I can do.

  5. John C. Calhoun  April 1, 2015

    Sir, I believe you are learned man and I only wish I hard started reading your blog sooner. I am deeply saddened that we have “dehumanized” life by breaking down decisions such as these to dollars and cents (non-sensical and dehumanizing). I am not unaware to what some call actuarial science. And I myself am currently trying to fight for my now deceased wife whom wrongful “killed” by decisions, omissions, and errors made by the Columbus City Schools. The only way we have to make note of such is thru courts and compensation.
    But I digress, I was a very vociferous supporter of the death penalty in my misguided youth. I was in the early stages of compulsory national service when I first saw Papillon. I disavowed my earlier bloodthirsty revengefulness in favor of “reclusion”. I believe if we find that people must be separated from society to protect the innocent, then creating an isolation island (or how about Antarctica?) where we allow people to live out the remainder of their lives among their peers with only a basic primitive start from the rest of us. We would no longer be put on equal footing with the convicted who took a life. Costs can be minimal and there always remains the possibility of extraction/reversal. Life is always the right way to, choose life. Thanks for the forum.


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