NEW VOICES: Republican Senator Says Kansas Death Penalty "Too Costly"

Senator Carolyn McGinn of Kansas (pictured) recently published an op-ed calling for an end to the death penalty because it is too costly and does not benefit the people. Sen. McGinn, a Republican from Sedgwick, is the sponsor of a bill that would replace the death penalty with a sentence of life without parole.  She explained that in light of the state’s budget deficit, Kansas is looking at ways to reduce government spending.  “One policy change being considered is whether the death penalty is worth its higher cost to Kansas citizens, versus the alternative sentence of life in prison without parole we now have on the books,” she wrote.  She pointed to a Kansas legislative report that found "the estimated median cost of a case in which the death sentence was given was about 70% more than the median cost of a non-death penalty murder case.”   Senator McGinn’s full op-ed may be read below:

 

 Through such state audits, reports, and testimony, McGinn learned, “This added cost is a result of investigation, lengthier trials and the higher cost and frequency of appeals. The appeals process is mandated by the U.S. Supreme Court and the Constitution. The state of Kansas can do little to reduce these costs, which are built into cases involving capital punishment.”

Death Penalty Too Costly, Not Deterrent

Senator Carolyn McGinn

Because of the state's budget deficit, state legislators are looking at how we fund government today and in the future. We are considering bills that would consolidate and restructure agencies, as well as policy decisions that would reduce government spending.

One policy change being considered is whether the death penalty is worth its higher cost to Kansas citizens, versus the alternative sentence of life in prison without parole we now have on the books.

Since Kansas placed the death penalty on the books in 1994, not one person has been executed. Kansas has not executed anyone since 1965. The Kansas Legislature passed a measure in 2004 creating the sentence of life without parole.

In 2003, a Kansas Legislative Division of Post Audit report found that the estimated median cost of a case in which the death sentence was given was about 70 percent more than the median cost of a non-death penalty murder case. This report included information provided by the Kansas Attorney General's Office, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, the Board of Indigents' Defense Services, and local courts, prosecutors and law enforcement officers.

In testimony Friday in Topeka, Pat Scalia of the Board of Indigents' Defense Services stated that since the re-enactment of the death penalty, 107 cases were filed with charges under the capital murder statute. To date, 26 death penalty trials have been completed, 12 resulting in the death sentence. The cost for the defense through Feb. 23 was $19.9 million.

This added cost is a result of investigation, lengthier trials and the higher cost and frequency of appeals. The appeals process is mandated by the U.S. Supreme Court and the Constitution. The state of Kansas can do little to reduce these costs, which are built into cases involving capital punishment.

Because of the emotional impact, this change in policy cannot be totally weighed in dollars. This is why Senate Bill 208 has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. At its public hearing Thursday, senators heard testimony demonstrating the inconsistency, ineffectiveness and the greater fiscal and emotional burdens of the death penalty system.

The committee also heard much testimony disputing the widely held belief that the death penalty acts as a deterrent to violent crime. The American Society of Criminology surveyed criminologists about their thoughts regarding whether the death penalty was a deterrent to crimes, and the vast majority responded that it was not a deterrent. Further, the life-without-parole sentence has given the state an effective alternative to ensure the most heinous criminals are never able to endanger society again.

Having this discussion in no way diminishes the pain and grief that victims and family members go through. Nor does it indicate that those on death row are not deserving of dying in prison. It does cause one to ask whether lethal injection is worse than being forced to live life in isolation until death.

(C. McGinn, "Death Penalty Too Costly," The Wichita Eagle, March 1, 2009).  The same paper features another opinion piece by the State’s Attorney General in favor of the death penalty.  The Kansas Senate Judiciary Committee voted to send the abolition bill to the full senate on Mar. 5.  See New Voices, Costs, and Recent Legislation.