In today’s world, money is a source for mostly everything. It is what keeps food on the table and what keeps most people going to work. With how hard people work to earn and maintain an income, it would be nice to know where the money taken in taxes goes. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (2014), the United States spent 50 billion dollars on the Department of Corrections. 35% of that total was used for capital punishment cases, which totals out to 17.5 billion dollars used in one year towards capital punishment in the United States. A large portion of those funds being used are coming from state and federal taxes collected from hard working U.S. citizens. That 17.5 billion dollars could be used for much better things then court cases. State legislatures still allowing the death penalty need to abolish the practice period to lower state taxes, fix prison structures, and help redirect funds to better locations. The complete abolishment of capital punishment would be a large driving force to lower state taxes. According to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the average state tax for middle class families or individuals is 9%. (2014). Using California as an example, out of that 9%, 3% goes to the states Department of Corrections. Out of that 3%, 2% of that is fed into public defenders, court room hearings and cases, extra security for death row inmates, as well as their food, living quarters, and special transportation.
That is a lot of costly measures for a single person when you look at numbers. In regards to where the rest of those taxes goes, .5% goes to public safety, .25% goes towards state education services, and 1% goes towards public transportation (California Board of Equalization, 2014). If the state continues to use executions as a method of punishment, the percentage going towards corrections will only rise. If it continues to rise, either taxes will go up or the state will have to pull from education, emergency responders, and public transportation. If you look at the state of Michigan, who did abolish capital punishment, income tax is a little different. According to Michigan’s Department of Treasury (2014), the income tax is 7% for middle class families and individuals. Of that already lower 7%, only 1.55% goes towards the state’s Department of Corrections, with .75% going towards education and .75% going towards public safety. Taxes will always be there and likely be somewhat high but the states without capital punishment generally have a lower rate with better allocation of the funds.
Capital punishment is creating an atmosphere of higher costs all around, which have to come from somewhere. Current prison structures are taking a large hit due to capital punishment that usually goes unseen. Unfortunately it takes a major issue such as a prison guard’s death to point out the prison structure issues. The average guard to inmate ratio varies from state to state. In the best conditions the guard to inmate ratio will be 1:5, in worse case situations, some states are currently 1:20. Whereas some states require a minimum of 1:1 guard to inmate ratio for death row inmates (Mitchell, 2012). Those guards are being paid next to nothing compared to the costs taking place around them. Taking a look at what it costs to maintain a prison can be staggering. It costs an average of about $47,000 per year to incarcerate an inmate in prison in California (Edwards, 2009). That number skyrockets for a death row inmate. California taxpayers pay $90,000 more per death row prisoner each year than on prisoners in regular confinement (Mitchell, 2012).
With just over 3,000 people on death row, that places a yearly $270,000,000 extra that has to be placed on death row inmates. That extra money is needed for the court hearings, extra security, singled out specific cells, and an entire area of a prison just for them. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the average time someone spends on death row is 14 years (2011). If you take the 14 year average, each death row inmate is costing their state roughly $1,260,000 prior to execution. If the total amount of death row inmates is taken into account, it is costing the nation’s tax payers roughly 3.78 billion dollars over the course of 14 years to follow through with the “quick fix” to murderers. Those funds could help restructure the prisons, creating a safer environment for the guards to be in. According to Ron McAndrew (2014), a former state prison warden, “Guards are never in a fair game situation, they are trained to be outnumbered, which is a horrible thing to think about, we are hiring them and placing them in that kind of situation because we do not have a choice.” Removing capital punishment allows for the removal of death row. If death row is removed, it would allow all those extra security measures and guards to be used for general population and overall prison security. With all the money being spent on capital punishment related issues, the complete abolishment of it would allow states to place that money where it would greatly help.
According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the United States ranks 33 in reading, 27 in math, and 22 in science amongst the rest of the countries in the world (2011). Imagine what some of that money being used for capital punishment could do for the United States as a whole when put into education. A portion of the extra money could potentially be put towards emergency responder services. Those funds could cause faster response times, better equipment, and better and more frequently trained personnel. As a whole that could potentially save lives. Another area that would better tremendously due to the relocation of funds is medical facilities. Most medical facilities in the United States are always understaffed, underpaid, and have issues maintaining. Lives could potentially be lost due to slow response times or understaffed hospitals (Sarat, 2009). The funds could go towards providing better public transportation or for some states, providing it period. That money could also clean up streets, provide better roadways, and overall safer environments on roads.
It could even be used to provide more jobs for a state or not be used at all and go back into the taxpayer’s pocket. Any of those options are far better than spending millions of dollars to “dispose” of a violent criminal. Just allow him to live his life out in prison. When you simplify all of the statistics and information, it comes down to a substantial amount of money being pushed into capital punishment that comes out of the taxpayer’s pocket and goes into an unnecessary location. Even though more and more states are slowly abolishing the death penalty it is still staggering how much it is costing the country as a whole. That money could do so much more for those affected states and the state services they provide to the public. So if state legislatures abolish the death penalty, it could lower state taxes, help correct issues in prison structures and help redirect funds to where they are needed.
Mitchell, P. (2008, June). Death Penalty Debacle. Retrieved August 15, 2014, from http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/documents/LoyolaCalifCosts.pdf
Edwards, A. (2009, February). Annual Cost to Incarcerate. In Criminal Justice
and Judiciary. Retrieved August 16, 2014, from http://www.lao.ca.gov/PolicyAreas/CJ/6_cj_inmatecost
Snell, T. (2014, May). Capital Punishment Statistical Tables. In Bureau of Justice Statistics. Retrieved August 17, 2014, from http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/documents/cp12st.pdf
Sarat, A. (2008). Is the Death Penalty Dying?. Amsterdam: Elsevier JAI.
Horton, J. E. (2014, January). Detailed Description of the Sales & Use Tax Rate. In California State Board of Equalization. Retrieved September 1, 2014, from http://www.boe.ca.gov/news/sp111500att.htm
White, G. (2014, January). Michigan Equalization Information 2014. In Michigan Department of Treasury. Retrieved September 2, 2014, from http://www.michigan.gov/taxes/0,4676,7-238-43535_43537-154825–,00.html
McAndrew, R. (2014, October 23) From Executioner to Advocate – Ron McAndrew
Retrieved from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k_Ld9ffm_pY
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