Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?

Our mission is to reverse the trend of mass incarceration in Colorado. We are a coalition of nearly 7,000 individual members and over 100 faith and community organizations who have united to stop perpetual prison expansion in Colorado through policy and sentence reform.

Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.

If you would like to be involved please go to our website and become a member.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Citing Costs States Considering Ending Death Penalty


ANNAPOLIS, Md. — When Gov. Martin O’Malley appeared before the Maryland Senate last week, he made an unconventional argument that is becoming increasingly popular in cash-strapped states: abolish the death penalty to cut costs.

Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat and a Roman Catholic who has cited religious opposition to the death penalty in the past, is now arguing that capital cases cost three times as much as homicide cases where the death penalty is not sought. “And we can’t afford that,” he said, “when there are better and cheaper ways to reduce crime.”

Lawmakers in Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska and New Hampshire have made the same argument in recent months as they push bills seeking to repeal the death penalty, and experts say such bills have a good chance of passing in Maryland, Montana and New Mexico.

Death penalty opponents say they still face an uphill battle, but they are pleased to have allies raising the economic argument.

Efforts to repeal the death penalty are part of a broader trend in which states are trying to cut the costs of being tough on crime. Virginia and at least four other states, for example, are considering releasing nonviolent offenders early to reduce costs.

The economic realities have forced even longtime supporters of the death penalty, like Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico, to rethink their positions.

Mr. Richardson, a Democrat, has said he may sign a bill repealing capital punishment that passed the House last week and is pending in a Senate committee. He cited growing concerns about miscarriages of justice, but he added that cost was a factor in his shifting views and was “a valid reason in this era of austerity and tight budgets.”

Capital cases are expensive because the trials tend to take longer, they typically require more lawyers and more costly expert witnesses, and they are far more likely to lead to multiple appeals.

In New Mexico, lawmakers who support the repeal bill have pointed out that despite the added expense, most defendants end up with life sentences anyway.

That has been true in Maryland. A 2008 study by the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan public policy group, found that in the 20 years after the state reinstated the death penalty in 1978, prosecutors sought the death penalty in 162 felony-homicide convictions, securing it in 56 cases, most of which were overturned; the rest of the convictions led to prison sentences.

Since 1978, five people have been executed in Maryland, and five inmates are on death row.


dudleysharp said...


From: Dudley Sharp, contact info below

NOTE: I think CJLF is being very generous. Not only do most, if not all, cost evaluations avoid the death penalty credit for plea bargains to life, they usually don't calculate the cost of geriatric care for lifers and, quite often, the evaluations are so biased, against the death penalty, that they don't represent anything close to a balanced review. For example, the Maryland cost review reversed the credit for the plea bargain to a life sentence.

I am not affiliated with CJLF.


Criminal Justice Legal Foundation


February 25, 2009
Michael Rushford, President
(916) 446-0345

Prior Studies Fail to Account for Savings from Guilty Pleas with Life Sentences

Legislatures expecting a large savings in trial costs from repealing the death penalty may be in for a disappointment, according to a study released today by the Sacramento-based Criminal Justice Legal Foundation. The most widely cited estimates ignore or minimize an important cost-saving effect of having the death penalty available.

In states where the death penalty is the maximum punishment, a larger number of murder defendants are willing to plead guilty and receive a life sentence. The greater cost of trials where the prosecution does seek the death penalty is offset, at least in part, by the savings from avoiding trial altogether in cases where the defendant pleads guilty. Although this effect is well known to people working in the field, there appears to be no prior study to determine the actual size of this effect.

An example of the plea bargaining effect occurred two weeks ago in Navarro County, Texas. Shaun Earl Arender confessed to the sexual assault and murder of six-year-old Hanna Mack and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole in return for avoiding the death penalty. If Texas did not have the death penalty, this case would almost certainly have gone to trial. Sentencing expert Douglas Berman of Ohio State University notes on his blog, “I think an important and underexamined aspect of the death penalty is its impact on plea bargaining and other pre-trial aspects of the investigation and prosecution of horrible murders.”

The study released today, The Death Penalty and Plea Bargaining of Life Sentences, analyzed data gathered by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics from 33 large urban counties. The study examined how many of the murder cases were resolved by guilty plea, how many went to trial, and how many resulted in a sentence of at least 20 years.

In states with the death penalty, the average county obtained sentences of 20 years or more in 50.7% of cases where the defendant was charged with murder and convicted of murder or voluntary manslaughter. These sentences were obtained through a guilty plea in 18.9% of the cases. In states without the death penalty, sentences of 20 years or more were obtained in 40.5% of such cases, but only 5.0% of those were guilty pleas, a little over a quarter of the number in the death penalty states.

The difference in the two groups of counties is “statistically significant,” meaning it is highly unlikely to have happened at random. A correlational study such as this cannot definitively prove that the death penalty is the cause of the difference observed, but no other explanation is apparent.

This result is consistent with a 2006 study by economist Ilyana Kuziemko, then at Harvard and now at Princeton. She found that the availability of the death penalty did not have a large effect on the total number of cases plea bargained, but without the death penalty more defendants obtained reductions to lower degrees of homicide.

Opponents of the death penalty contend that life imprisonment will serve just as well to incapacitate convicted murderers. (The separate question of deterrence remains hotly disputed.) However, incapacitation will certainly be reduced and more innocent people will be murdered if fewer defendants are actually sentenced to life in prison. Without the threat of the death penalty, either many more cases must go to trial or many more murderers will be released in the future.

In a recent, widely cited study of death penalty costs in Maryland by the Urban Institute, one-third of the cases eligible for the death penalty were resolved by a guilty plea. Yet the study’s estimate of costs makes no allowance for the possibility that percentage would drop sharply if the death penalty were repealed. Study commission reports in New Jersey and California have similarly ignored the issue or made inadequate allowance for it.

“The fact that these studies have omitted an important and obvious factor raises serious questions about their credibility,” said CJLF’s Legal Director Kent Scheidegger, the author of the study. “What else did they leave out?” To take just one example, both the Maryland and California studies calculate death row imprisonment costs on the assumption that inmates sentenced to death will live out their natural lives in prison. With an effective death penalty system executing its judgments in an average of five years, the imprisonment costs would be dramatically lower than these estimates.

“Repeal advocates are promising legislatures a pot of gold,” said Scheidegger. “That pot may be as elusive as the mythical one at the end of the rainbow, or it may be purchased with the lives of innocent people.”

CJLF Legal Director Kent Scheidegger is available for comment at (916) 446-0345.
The working paper for this study may be found on CJLF’s web site at:
Criminal Justice Legal Foundation
2131 L Street, Sacramento, CA 95816 * P.O. Box 1199, Sacramento, CA 95812
(916) 446-0345 * Web page: http://www.cjlf.org

forwarded by
Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters
e-mail sharpjfa@aol.com, 713-622-5491,
Houston, Texas

Mr. Sharp has appeared on ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN, C-SPAN, FOX, NBC, NPR, PBS , VOA and many other TV and radio networks, on such programs as Nightline, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, The O'Reilly Factor, etc., has been quoted in newspapers throughout the world and is a published author.

A former opponent of capital punishment, he has written and granted interviews about, testified on and debated the subject of the death penalty, extensively and internationally.

Pro death penalty sites


www.coastda.com/archives.html see Death Penalty
http://yesdeathpenalty.googlepages.com/home2 (Sweden)

Anonymous said...