In Bob Evnen’s op-ed, he attempts to rebut data detailing the death penalty’s high cost ("Thoughts about the death penalty: Correcting the record," July 11). Sadly, to make his case, Evnen distorts the data.
Studies on cost consistently find the death penalty to be more expensive than incarceration due to the complex nature of capital cases. Peer-reviewed studies by economists and state legislative audits alike reach this conclusion.
It’s misleading to suggest that capital punishment’s high cost is simply a myth perpetuated by death penalty opponents. By ignoring the overwhelming evidence on the death penalty’s cost, Evnen comes off like a tobacco lobbyist insisting that there’s no link between cancer and smoking when the scientific community says otherwise.
Evnen’s most embarrassing error comes in criticizing a non-partisan cost study commissioned by the Kansas Legislature. He calls this study “misleading” because it fails to account for money saved through plea deals resulting from a death penalty. If only Evnen had read the study! According to it, when Kansas prosecutors seek the death penalty and obtain a plea deal, the average defense and district court costs are $146,858. That’s still more than the average costs -- $120,517 -- of a case that goes to trial when prosecutors do not seek the death penalty.
The Kansas study addresses the very point that Evnen says it neglects: it takes into account the fiscal impact of plea deals resulting from the death penalty and finds that they fail to save money. Moreover, other death penalty cases in Kansas go to trial and cost three to four times more than cases where the death penalty is not sought.
Like Evnen, some stubbornly claim that the death penalty does not come with extra costs. But let’s be clear: this claim is not grounded in any factual data.
Rep. Steven Becker, retired District Court Judge for Reno County, Kansas and member of the 2014 Judicial Council Death Penalty Advisory Committee, Buhler, Kansas.