Taxpayers have spent more than $4 billion on capital punishment in California since it was reinstated in 1978, or about $308 million for each of the 13 executions carried out since then. (source)
Compared to other types of criminal punishment, that’s a lot:
A 2003 legislative audit in Kansas found that the estimated cost of a death penalty case was 70% more than the cost of a comparable non-death penalty case. Death penalty case costs were counted through to execution (median cost $1.26 million). Non-death penalty case costs were counted through to the end of incarceration (median cost $740,000). (source)
OK, you may say, but what if we just shoot the bastards immediately? Wouldn’t that drive down the cost? We could then avoid the lengthy appeals. Indeed, we could avoid the appeals, but the cost would not drop significantly:
The greatest costs associated with the death penalty occur prior to and during trial, not in post-conviction proceedings. Even if all post-conviction proceedings (appeals) were abolished, the death penalty would still be more expensive than alternative sentences. (source)
Not surprisingly, our current recession has had at least the benefit that some cash-strapped governments are reconsidering the death penalty. That is, until the economy recovers, I’m afraid.