It turns out that killing people is expensive. I just found an article on the bbc website talking about how expensive it is to go through with capital punishment; strangely the article focused on the $1,000 price tag just for the drugs themselves but the real cost is drastically higher. Apparently companies continually try to avoid selling drugs that are used in executions to US prisons and so the cost to acquire the drugs is becoming somewhat prohibitive. None of that matters much in the long run of course because the real cost of killing murderers is in the courts rather than the injections.
Justice is expensive. Bailiffs, lawyers, judges, courthouses, prisons, and everything else associated with criminal prosecution and incarceration has a monstrous cost to society. We should of course strive to only spend the money associated with arresting people when there is a real, demonstrable benefit to society; even if you don't buy into the justice argument for not locking all kinds of people up it is hard to deny the economic argument. It all gets much worse when capital punishment gets brought into the mix because everything takes much longer and the arrangements for going through with the execution are elaborate.
I knew that execution was more expensive than indefinite incarceration but the numbers just blew my mind: California has paid out more than 4 billion dollars in the last 34 years for capital punishment and has killed just 13 people. Admittedly it is a bit crazy to count the dollars per death and hope to kill people as efficiently as possible but I think it is a number worth considering - 300 million dollars invested per person killed seems like a strange priority for state funding. If California wants to kill people and is willing to invest big time to do it they could probably just hire hit men for a lot less than that! Hell, I might be tempted to go knock off a few Californians for just 3 million bucks a head... a 10,000% increase in efficiency. In this economy, who could say no to that offer?
That is the thing that truly boggles me. Not that people want to execute criminals if it is cheap to do so; that is a mistake but isn't surprising. What is surprising is that they are happy to pay enormous sums of money to execute criminals instead of simply putting them in jail forever.