The Rising Cost of Execution

As the cost of executions rises, state officials are scrambling to find the money to pay for them.

Late last month, the Richmond-Times Dispatch reported that the Virginia Department of Corrections had agreed to pay $16,500 per execution under a new state contract. The paper says that’s 30 times higher than what the state would have had to pay last year for execution drugs.

A law passed by the state’s General Assembly earlier this year gave the Department of Corrections permission to buy lethal injection drugs from compounding pharmacies rather than from pharmaceutical manufacturers, since it is almost impossible for states to obtain execution drugs from pharmaceutical companies. The law also allows the vendor’s identity to remain secret.

The $16,500 price tag only covers one of the drugs Virginia uses in its three-drug protocol. The paper quotes a DOC spokeswoman as saying that if the state had to buy all three drugs from the compounding pharmacy, the total cost for one execution would be $49,500.

Execution costs are also at the forefront of a debate in Nebraska. After the legislature repealed that state’s death penalty last year, death penalty supporters gathered enough signatures to put a referendum on the November ballot to bring it back.

At the request of death penalty opponents, Creighton University economist Ernie Goss produced a study that shows Nebraska spends about $14.6 million a year on the death penalty. But according to the Omaha World-Herald, Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson is disputing that figure, saying the report relies too heavily on cost studies published in other states.

And in Florida, the Miami Herald reports that in Miami-Dade County alone, $50 million has been spent on death penalty cases since the late 1990s. The paper says Miami-Dade accounts for 38 percent of all billings in the state, while handling only 18 percent of the state’s cases. The county’s bills for defending capital cases are twice the statewide median; $55 thousand per case as opposed to $28 thousand in the rest of the state.

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