The Illinois Capital Punishment Reform Study Committee has published its 6th and final report on changes to the death penalty – both in substance and procedure – in Illinois. The Committee, established in 2003 was charged with studying reforms to the death penalty in IL over 5 years. In 2008, its tenure was extended a year. Every year, the committee has issued a report, this being the final one. From the NYT:
The report found that taxpayers spend huge sums on prosecution of an inordinate number of death-penalty cases, though we’ve seen 18 death sentences since 2003; that prosecutors seek the penalty as a bargaining ploy in pursuit of a lesser guilty plea and sentence, and that $64 million has been spent on civil damage awards to men whose death row convictions were reversed.
One of the recommendations of the committee is to conduct a comprehensive cost study. One of the committee members, however, has done some digging of her own. Leigh B. Bienen, a senior lecturer at Northwestern University School of Law, has a forthcoming law review article in which she details the high cost and financial incentives of retaining the death penalty:
Since 2000, she learned, $100 million in taxpayer money has been spent via the Capital Litigation Trust Fund. That honey pot was meant to ensure defense counsel in capital cases, especially in places where public defender offices aren’t staffed adequately and must enlist private lawyers. But prosecutors made sure that the fund would also pay for their often-ample nonsalary expenses, including those for investigators, not just for private defense counsel and the nonsalary expenses of public defenders.
St. Clair County has a per-capita murder rate of 13.36 per 100,000 citizens, and it prosecuted 17 capital cases from 2000 to 2008. By comparison, DuPage County, with a per-capita murder rate of 0.93, prosecuted 21. Madison County, with a rate of 4.24, prosecuted 18, while Sangamon County, with a rate of 4.59, prosecuted 3. How about this: Jefferson County got $2.5 million to prosecute 2 capital cases — neither wound up in a death sentence — while Macon County got $943,858 to prosecute 14. Cook County is the state’s homicide champion, accounting for 75 percent of murders, and consistently charges murders as death penalty cases, triggering the state payments to both sides. But the county brings few capital cases to trial, often procuring a plea to a lesser charge.
So we don’t get retribution, deterrence or rehabilitation but, instead, inducements to pursue capital cases. Counties get a virtually bankrupt state to pick up a fat tab and “to maintain a very expensive and dysfunctional system of capital punishment,” Mrs. Bienen wrote.
According to this editorial:
Illinois spends $20 million a year to prosecute and administer capital cases, according to the Illinois Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. The Capital Litigation Trust Fund, which pays for legal appeals in death penalty cases, has cost $100 million since 2003.
One final point on cost: in Connecticut there are no reliable numbers on the cost of the death penalty. This isn’t because we’ve forgotten how to count (although the Gov’s race fiasco might suggest that), rather because the state’s attorneys and the judicial branch do not keep track of how much they spend on capital cases. The only agency that does is the public defender’s office. If that doesn’t tell you something, read this excellent piece in the Hartford Courant by business columnist Dan Haar, who crunches the numbers and concludes that the death penalty is a damn waste of money. Continue reading