Fiscal Impact

Prop 62 advocates say:

The state’s independent Legislative Analyst confirmed Prop 62 will save $150 million per year. A death row sentence costs 18 times more than life in prison. Resources can be better spent on education, public safety, and crime prevention that actually works.

Constitutionally mandated appeals and special death row facilities cost taxpayers $150 million every year.

Californians have spent $5 billion since 1978 to put 13 people to death, at a cost of $384 million per execution.


Prop 66 advocates say:

Isn’t it true that the death penalty costs much more than life without parole?

No. In fact, life without parole is much more expensive than a properly implemented death penalty. Opponents argue that housing and long-term medical costs significantly increase death row expenditures. However, the actual facts do not support this claim. California would save millions of dollars in housing and medical care by streamlining the process and executing death row inmates as the courts have ordered, thus relieving the tax burden borne by all California citizens.


The costs of the death penalty in California (and other states) have been studied multiple times, with all studies demonstrating that the death penalty costs more than life without parole.

Studies in California include the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice (2008), the Loyola Law School report Executing the Will of the Voters (2012), and most recently a follow up report from Loyola Law School California Votes 2016. Each of these reports showed that many factors substantially increase the cost of the death penalty over life without parole. Some of these factors include special housing requirements, increased trial costs, and lengthy appeals.

The claims made by Prop 62 advocates that the death penalty costs 18 times more than a life without parole sentence, and that California pays roughly $150 million per year totaling $5 billion since 1978, are supported by research studies of California’s death penalty.

Advocates of Prop 66 claim, on the other hand, that life without parole is more expensive than “a properly functioning death penalty.” This claim is not supported by evidence, either in California or in any other state.

Prop 66 attempts to save money by:

  • Shortening the appeals process and executing inmates faster
  • Getting rid of special housing rules for death row

But it also costs money by:

  • Training a large number of new lawyers for death penalty defense
  • Adding to the caseload of state courts
  • Paying more defense attorneys to resolve state death row appeals faster
  • Potentially increasing the length and complexity of federal habeas corpus proceedings, with attendant costs to state and federal taxpayers.

    No study of the death penalty in any state in the U.S. has shown that the death penalty is less expensive than life without parole. In every state in which the cost of the death penalty has been studied, research has shown that the added costs associated with the death penalty exceed the costs of a life without parole sentence.

    The claim made by the Prop 66 campaign is based on the hypothetical system envisioned by Prop 66, which its advocates argue will save money. However, there is no basis to believe that the system created by Prop 66 will actually achieve the intended result of so systemically expediting executions that it will cost less than life without parole.

    The primary basis for the claim that Prop 66 will save money is the five-year time limit imposed on appeals and removing the special housing conditions on death row. However, this argument does not take into account the additional costs required to implement Prop 66 and the new time limits.

    In order to implement these time limits, Prop 66 increases the pool of attorneys available to defend death row inmates, both by lowering the qualifications and by requiring non-death penalty attorneys who take state appointed appeals to also accept death penalty appeals. This provision includes substantial costs that Prop 66 advocates have not accounted for. First, conscripting unwilling lawyers to handle capital cases is expected to result in litigation over the adequacy of attorney payments and resources necessary to investigate and present death penalty claims and whether the state can require lawyers to undertake capital representation as a precondition for continuing to handle their normal appellate cases.  Assuming those provisions survive constitutional review, large number of attorneys will then have to be trained to meet the qualifications for death penalty defense.

    Prop 66 also diverts state appeals from the California Supreme Court to local courts. In order to meet the five-year time limit for appeals, local county courts will be required to absorb hundreds of new cases on top of their current case loads. The legal fees to address these cases, both to pay for the court costs and to pay the increased pool of defense attorneys, and the administrative costs of additional court personnel are not taken into account in the claims made by Prop 66 advocates.

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