NC Could Save $11 Million Annually By Not Seeking Death Penalty


If North Carolina stopped trying to execute killers, it would free up $11 million a year, says a study by Duke University economist Philip Cook reported by the Raleigh News & Observer. There is little return on the dollars spent on seeking the death penalty, says Cook. Of the 1,034 people charged with murder in North Carolina in 2005 and 2006, prosecutors initially sought the death penalty against about a quarter of them. Only 11, though, were sentenced to death for their crimes. “The idea that the state could spend so much money on someone they think is completely undeserving is very interesting,” Cook said. “I have to believe that there are some people that would find this cost issue irritating.”

Cook’s study was published this month in American Law and Economics Review. A previous study by Cook on the cost of the death penalty in North Carolina was published in 1993. In that study, he estimated an annual savings of $4 million if the death penalty were not an option. His new findings will be presented to legislators, and opponents of the death penalty will likely use them to argue that it isn’t cost-effective. Cook argues that the rarity of death sentences undermines the deterrent factor. By his math, the odds of a killer getting the death penalty are less than 1 percent. State Rep. Paul Stam said criminals don’t calculate odds and aren’t swayed by them. “Criminals pay more attention to TV and newspaper headlines than to statistics,” said Stam, a proponent of the death penalty. “Maybe that is why many of them get caught.”

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