Criminal Justice

Limited Data Available on Costs of Death Sentences Gao ID: GGD-89-122 September 29, 1989

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the costs of implementing existing federal and state death penalty provisions, focusing on the four general stages of the criminal justice process, including investigations, trial, appeals, imprisonment.

GAO found that: (1) federal agencies did not have any actual cost data on implementing the 13 existing federal statutes including death penalty provisions; (2) housing a death row prisoner at the highest security level would cost $26,000 annually, while transportation of prisoners to the execution facility and certifying completion of execution would cost about $4,943 per prisoner; (3) although there were no federal prisoners on death row, 34 states had sentenced 2,124 prisoners to death as of December 1988; (4) many recent studies on the costs associated with the death penalty at the state level concluded that cases resulting in death sentences cost about 42 percent more than cases resulting in non-death sentences; (5) cost data on death penalty cases at the state level varied depending on the factors included; (6) although two Department of Justice organizations issued guidelines concerning implementation of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act death penalty provisions, most federal agencies had no plans to track death penalty cases; and (7) most agencies believed that because there were so few cases, reviewing the cases individually would be the easiest way to obtain death penalty data.

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