The Death Penalty: Keeping Us All Behind Bars

Grace Sakalas-Honorbound

When it comes to execution, the United States is a top world competitor. Only following behind China, Iran, and North Korea, the United States has a substantial amount of people on death row compared to rest of the world.[1] Some see it as inhumane, some see it as necessary, but to the naked eye most people do not see how the death penalty truly affects the economy. Naked Economics author Charles Wheelan discusses the idea of opportunity cost and how this ultimately relates back to the problems caused when utilizing the death penalty in our courts. The death penalty comes with a high opportunity cost that Americans should be conscious about to fully understand how what may seem as a small part of taxes has a greater effect on the economy as a whole.

Those on death row require tax payer money to ultimately end their life, which in turn sets the economy back not only financially but also in the sense of utilizing individuals as resources. Human resources such as those throughout labor and management are essential to the development of the economy. Though the drug for immunization costs downward of one hundred dollars, the death penalty case itself costs upward of 1.3 million.[2] Having the death penalty still in place in over two thirds of American states, resources such as government spending, attorneys, and the prisoners are wasted. These financial and human resources who designate their jobs to these cases could be used elsewhere and this illustrates the opportunity cost of having the death penalty. By abolishing the death penalty in the United States, Americans would ultimately have to weigh what is more significant, the punishment of a minute number of criminals or the massive budget crisis of wasting tax payers’ millions.

When examining better methods than the continuation of the death penalty, one should consider life without parole. When comparing the statistics in California death penalty cases versus the imprisoned life there is a clear price discrepancy. The annual cost of the death penalty is 137 million dollars compared to a lifetime of incarceration at 11.5 million. [3] Maintaining each death row prisoner costs taxpayers ninety thousand dollars more per year than a prisoner in general population. A lifetime of imprisonment allows the government to utilize prisoners for life without parole and not raise taxes for government spending in these court cases. The opportunity cost of having the death penalty results in Americans wasting hard earned money on a multitude criminal cases.

Opportunity cost is defined as a benefit that a person could have received, but gave up, to take another course of action.[4] Before learning about opportunity cost in Naked Economics, I could not fully understand how and why the government would have laws in place that would ultimately hurt the economy. By reading Wheelan’s points on how individuals strive to maximize their utility, I can begin to understand how opportunity cost is a matter of trade offs because wants are unlimited but economics goods are scarce. [5]

[1] Amanda Hess, “Weighing the Death Penalty versus Life Without Parole,” The Daily Good, July 2011

[2] California Commission of the Fair Administration of Justice, “Death Penalty Cost,” Amnesty International, July 2008

[3] Kelly Phillips, “Considering the Death Penalty: Your Tax Dollars at Work,” Forbes, May 2014

[4] David Henderson, “Opportunity Cost,” The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics

[5] Charles Wheelan, Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010), 10

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