Senators Refuse to Study Capital Punishment Costs
On March 25 we saw 22 Nebraska Senators stand up for the average Nebraskan in support of a bill to identify the financial cost of our state’s death penalty system. While there were not enough votes to pass LB 1105, the debate around this issue has shown us that we are making progress in our efforts to end capital punishment—and that work must continue.
As many of you know, the long and complicated death penalty process has already cost taxpayers millions of dollars. More than a dozen states have found that the death penalty is up to ten times more expensive than sentences of life without parole. In our neighboring state of Kansas, the median cost of a death penalty case is $1.26 million, or a staggering 70 percent more than comparable non-death penalty cases.
As Nebraska continues to face tough economic times we can better use our limited funds on things that truly keep our communities safe—more effective law enforcement, improving the correctional system, solving cold cases, or even compensating the victims of crime. We must continue to show our elected officials that the death penalty simply is not worth it.
And while it is important that we all understand the financial costs of the death penalty, we cannot lose sight of the fact that the true costs of the death penalty go far beyond the fiscal.
The risk of executing an innocent person is real. Nebraska has sentenced innocent people to life in prison with the threat of the death penalty, and the leading crime scene investigator in Douglas County was recently convicted of tampering with evidence in a high-profile murder case. Despite our best intentions, human beings simply can’t be right 100 percent of the time. When a life is on the line, one mistake is one too many.
The death penalty has failed victims’ families. We continue to work with those who have faced the devastating loss of a loved one to murder. Time and time again they describe how the never-ending death penalty process prolongs the pain of their families, forcing them to relive their trauma as courts repeat trials and hearings in an effort to get it right. These families have learned the hard way that the death penalty only adds to their pain and suffering as they wait years and often decades for an execution that never comes.
We must all continue to work to educate the citizens of Nebraska and our elected officials of the mounting evidence of waste, inaccuracy and bias that has shattered public confidence in Nebraska’s death penalty. All across the country states are reconsidering their death penalty statutes and Nebraskans need to be part of that conversation.