Tom McFeely is the National Catholic Register’s News Editor. He lives in British Columbia.
Here’s an unexpected argument against the death penalty: It’s too expensive for states to afford in today’s tough economic times.
In an opinion piece posted Feb. 27 on TheKansan.com, Republican State Sen. Carolyn McGinn said Kansas would save more than $500,000 per case by not seeking the death penalty in trials involving capital crimes.
Wrote McGinn, “Because of the downturn in the national economy, we are facing one of the largest budget deficits in our history … What is certain is we are all going to have to look at new and creative ways to fund state and community programs and services.”
McGinn’s figure could be conservative, according to data cited by CNN.
“A 2008 study by the Urban Institute, an economic and social policy research group based in Maryland, found that an average capital murder trial in the state resulting in a death sentence costs about $3 million, or $1.9 million more than a case where the death penalty is not sought.
“A similar 2008 study by the ACLU in Northern California found that a death penalty trial costs about $1.1 million more than a non-death-penalty trial in California.”
McGinn isn’t claiming that money is the only reason, or the primary one, for opposing the death penalty.
“But the cost factor is just one reason McGinn opposes the death penalty,” Fox News noted in this article. “She calls it a flawed system that is anything but just. Critics say the death penalty entraps minorities and the poor who often cannot afford competent legal representation.”
Said McGinn to Fox News, “Approximately 40 percent of the folks on death row are African-Americans — and they represent only 12.2 percent of our entire population.”
Another important point McGinn makes is that a life sentence without parole offers American society a way to ensure that justice is served and society is protected, without taking a human life through recourse to the death penalty.
Said McGinn, “Further, life without parole has given the state an effective alternative to ensure the most heinous criminals are never able to endanger society again.”
The availability of such punishments in secure prisons in modern societies is one of the key reasons why Pope John Paul II taught capital punishment should today be opposed by Catholics, even though the Church has historically regarded it as a morally permissible punishment for certain grave crimes.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that in modern countries like the United States the cases in which capital punishment is justified “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent” (no. 2267).