The Cost of Life in Prison Without Parole Compared to an Execution Is

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“To live behind the cold bars of a prison cell or to die by the costly methods drawn by the state? That is the question.” 

If Hamlet were part of the United State’s Judiciary, you might hear his soliloquy of something of this nature start a debate determining what’s better: life in prison without parole or a quick death. 

What is better, practical, and cheaper: life imprisonment or employing the death penalty? This is the real question that needs to be answered. 

As you read this article and dive into the discussion, you’ll see these sentences’ pros, cons, and costs. You’ll get insights on whether life imprisonment or the death penalty is the better option. 

Life imprisonment vs. the death penalty has always been a hot topic in debate clubs and the Hall of Congress. The discussion is highly contentious and relies on facts, figures, and beliefs held dearly by a nation. 

Before sentencing, the legal procedure starts with a trial, where evidence is gathered to build up a case. 

Documents like arrest records are public information and can be accessed through a records finder like

You can check more than 7,000 correctional facilities in the country and have access to inmate records when needed. 

Death Penalty vs. Life in Prison: The Costs

When choosing what kind of punishment is better for society, one factor to consider is the cost of imposing either the death penalty or life imprisonment.

Where the taxpayers’ money goes is one of the contentions that divide those who favor or oppose these forms of punishment. 

The death penalty is a type of punishment for severe crimes requiring the death of a convicted individual to “serve justice.”

Life imprisonment without the possibility of parole is an alternative punishment to the death penalty. It involves a convicted individual who will serve time behind bars for the rest of their life.


Death penalty and life without the possibility of parole (LWOP) are punishments with moral and political issues that may result in differing views. However, this discussion includes not only the nation’s beliefs but also its financial capacity to pay for both of these punishments. 

Learning the pros and cons of these two punishments can provide added points for consideration in this ongoing discussion. 

The Issue

Some may think a death sentence is much cheaper than a life sentence. Some may argue that with capital punishment, the expenses will be lower because, after execution, the costs also end. Yet, as observations suggest, such is not the case. 

The cost of capital punishment may be higher because of factors that can increase expenses, including the following:

  • Extra legal proceedings
  • Motions for reconsideration and appeals
  • Extra lawyers
  • More public defenders
  • District attorneys
  • Law enforcement
  • Additional experts on both sides
  • The added time and effort of the justice system

General Reference (Not Clearly Pro or Con)

To better dissect the issue of whether the death penalty or life sentence is better, you must look at their pros and cons. It may be a lengthy process to pinpoint one by one the benefits and problems associated with both punishments. Still, it’s a task that’s worth undertaking. 

Pros (Yes)

Here are some reasons people approve of the death penalty:

  • There’s legality for the state to impose punishment proportional to the crime committed. A crime punishable by death should be given death.
  • Harsh punishment can deter people from committing crimes. It’s a notion fostered by people in favor of capital punishment. 
  • Retribution is part of justice. An “eye for an eye” requires punishment proportional to the crime committed. 
  • Because of the chance for retribution, there are cases where death penalties bring closure to the aggrieved families.

Cons (No)

Here are reasons why people disapprove of the death penalty in favor of a life without parole sentence:

  • The death penalty is such an extreme form of punishment that it requires care in judgment. People argue that because of the irreversibility of the death penalty, the state may execute an innocent person.
  • Life without the possibility of parole is regarded as more humane compared to capital punishment. A non-death penalty allows incarcerated people to think over what they’ve done and, through time, may result in genuine remorse and repentance.
  • Life sentences cost less than death penalty cases, as extra trials may result in high state costs. 
  • Life without parole is not a lenient sentence, and it’s often called “death by incarceration.” Yet, it’s humane as it provides a stern punishment for severe crimes and acknowledges that people can change and improve.  
  • Life sentences offer a person an entire life in prison devoted to finding themselves once more. These people can become better people, able to help others experience the change as well. 

Which Is Cheaper, Execution or Life in Prison Without Parole?

Depending on the state, taxpayers’ money funds government operations, including the expenses linked to capital punishment or life imprisonment. One must understand that the government runs correctional facilities, and their funds directly come from the budget allotted by the government. 

To understand the expenses of an LWOP or a death sentence, here is the following data:

  1. California: The state has spent over $4 billion, or more than $308 million per person of the 13 executed since capital punishment was reinstated. However, with life imprisonment, the state must dole out $200,000 to $300,000 per person. 
  1. Texas: The state spends an average of $3.8 million for the death penalty compared to $1.3 million for LWOP. 
  1. Kansas: The state’s estimated average cost for capital cases is around $395,000. In comparison, for non-death penalty cases, the cost drops to an average of around $98,000
  1. Maryland: From 1978 to 2008, five death penalty cases cost around $186 million. At the moment, the state doesn’t impose the death penalty. 
  1. Colorado: It’s estimated that if the state continued to enforce the death penalty, it would spend around $10 million annually. The state currently doesn’t impose the death penalty. 
  1. Florida: The approximate cost of imposing the death penalty in this state is around $24 million per execution. 
  1. New York: Estimates show that if New York continued implementing the death sentence, it would have spent over $1 billion annually. Currently, the state doesn’t impose the death penalty. 
  1. Tennessee: Statistics show that imposing the death penalty costs 48% more than life imprisonment.

Is the Death Penalty More Expensive Than Life in Prison?

Many factors point out that the death penalty is more expensive than imposing a life sentence. The criminal justice system continually tries to ensure that punishment is done with justice and fairness. However, the number of factors that increase the cost of the death penalty may influence the discussion toward saving taxpayer money when possible. 

Why Is the Death Penalty So Expensive?

Here is a breakdown of the factors contributing to the sometimes exorbitant expenses associated with imposing the death penalty. 

  1. Pre-trial costs: One must understand that capital cases are more complicated compared to non-capital cases. These trials cost money not only for the state but also for both plaintiff and defendant. The number of trials alone in a capital case can show how expensive the death penalty is. 

Other expenses included in this category include forensic evidence like DNA testing results and mental health reports.

Examples of capital cases are first-degree murder cases, in which, if found guilty, the defendant will face capital punishment.

  1. Legal costs: Many people in a death penalty case can’t afford to hire lawyers. It’s the responsibility of the state to assign public defenders to represent the defendant in court. Fees for these services are added to the bill for a case.
  1. Trial length: A typical death penalty trial may last more than four times longer than other trial cases. The lengthier legal process will understandably include compensation for jurors and attorneys involved in the case. Also included are the compensations of court personnel and miscellaneous expenses. 
  1. Jury selection: Capital trials are sensitive cases that require utmost care in sentencing. Because of this, jurors tend to be thoroughly questioned about their views regarding the case. Hence, death penalty trials are more time-consuming and costly. 
  1. Incarceration: People on death row may be placed in solitary confinement in a specialized facility. This kind of incarceration will require added security personnel as they wait until the date of the execution. 
  1. Appeals process: Defendants, even death row inmates, are entitled to seek a series of appeals to minimize the possible mistakes made during the preliminary trials. These appeals are essential as there are cases where evidence that prove the innocence of a defendant may come late. 

Background: Death Is Different

The finality and irreversibility of a death sentence make capital punishment different. This sentiment is shared by the Furman v. Georgia (1972) case. The U.S. Supreme Court stated that the death penalty differs from every form of criminal punishment, not in degree but in kind. 

Death is final, and when you sentence someone to death and carry it out, there’s no turning back. Because of this, it’s natural for people to demand perfect judgment where life and death are concerned. 

However, the U.S. Constitution does prevent any use of cruel and unusual methods of execution. If an execution is done with safeguards and its nature or procedure isn’t cruel and unusual, then the death penalty is constitutional. 

Death-Is-Different Jurisprudence

The consequence of treating the death penalty with care and caution is holding the lengthier trials to ensure a death-is-different jurisprudence. 

The courts treat capital cases carefully, especially if the state imposes capital punishment. The added care means added cost, as more experts, lawyers, and court personnel must work together to determine the case of a person. 

The case must be treated with care, as a wrongful conviction can result in delays in serving justice or causing injustice, which is much worse. 

This care in judgment reflected the sentiments of the founding fathers when they started to build a nation based on freedom. 

Also, the same founding fathers suggested that it’s better to free a guilty man than to condemn an innocent person. 

State and Federal Cost

Many statistical data reveal that state and federal agencies are required to settle higher costs when imposing capital punishment compared to the cost of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Data from different states show that death penalty cases cost more than others. 

However, states are not obligated to change their policies if the state government approves them. A murder case with a possible death sentence will have more than one trial, possible appeals, and other procedures requiring money. 

So, it’s clear that the death penalty costs more than life imprisonment. Death penalty cases can become tight legal battles requiring additional lawyers for counsel and other experts to ensure that the evidence used is as accurate as possible.


In the end, death penalties deprive a convicted person of the possibility for repentance according to their beliefs and moral standpoint. People share different sentiments, especially the parties involved in this case. 

Life imprisonment without parole is a preferred way of dealing with severe criminal cases because being imprisoned for life is never easier. Spending the rest of one’s life inside prison is not a great way to live, but living is still better than dying. 

Life provides the chance for repentance and reconciliation. Even if the convicted individual is not paroled or set on probation due to good behavior, they can still feel love and care. This ability to remain in touch with life makes living inside prison a chance to become a better person every day. 


  1. Life without possibility of parole
  2. Capital Punishment or Life Imprisonment? Some Cost Considerations
  3. Top 10 Pro & Con Arguments
  4. Should Life without Parole Replace the Death Penalty?
  5. Death Penalty Issues
  6. Capital Losses – The Price of the Death Penalty for New York State
  7. Furman v. Georgia (1972)

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