One of the conservative arguments for implementing capital punishment is that it saves taxpayers money. Rather than spending millions to imprison convicted murderers for life, the government can save money by executing criminals hopelessly beyond the possibility of rehabilitation.
It’s a cold and callous argument. And according to Ron Paul, the death penalty doesn’t actually save money.
"It is hard to find a more wasteful and inefficient government program than the death penalty," Paul writes for the Ron Paul Institute.
"New Hampshire recently spent over $4 million dollars prosecuting just two death penalty cases, while Jasper County in Texas raised property taxes by seven percent in order to pay for one death penalty case! A Duke University study found that replacing North Carolina’s death penalty would save taxpayers approximately $22 million dollars in just two years."
What accounts for those high costs? For one, states must pay for two separate trials for any individual facing the death penalty, one to determine the person’s guilt, the other to determine if the death sentence is warranted. Then there are usually years of appeals, sometimes resulting in an entire case being retried.
"It is not surprising that the government wastes so much time and money on such a flawed system," Paul writes. "After all, corruption, waste, and incompetence are common features of government programs ranging from Obamacare to the TSA to public schools to the post office.
"Given the long history of government failures, why should anyone, especially conservatives who claim to be the biggest skeptics of government, think it is a good idea to entrust government with the power over life and death?"
Practically speaking, the death penalty may not even be effective at one of its chief goals: scaring would-be criminals straight.
"…If the death penalty is an effective deterrent, why do jurisdictions without the death penalty have a lower crime rate? And why did a 2009 survey find that the majority of American police chiefs consider the death penalty the least effective way to reduce violent crime?"
While fiscal and practical arguments to end capital punishment are certainly important, Paul says the moral argument is even more crucial. Since 1973, one out of ten individuals sent to death row have been exonerated. Even modern DNA evidence, which many consider fairly conclusive, isn’t foolproof. It can be mishandled, falsified, and is available in "only five to ten percent of criminal cases."
"Since it is impossible to develop an error-free death penalty system, those who support the death penalty are embracing the idea that the government should be able to execute innocent people for the 'greater good.'"
This gives the government the power to strip individuals of not only their rights, but their lives, and so long as the authorities have that power, capital punishment will remain a stain on the idea of freedom.
"Until the death penalty is abolished, we will have neither a free nor a moral society."