KCBD Investigates: The cost of the death penalty - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

KCBD Investigates: The cost of the death penalty


More than 500 people have been executed in the state of Texas since 1976, including two from Lubbock in just the past year.

However, while Texas may lead the nation in executions, no one seems to know how much this is costing the taxpayers.

Right now, there are 274 offenders on death row at the Polunsky Unit in Livingston, Texas. The state spends large amounts of money on those individuals every year, but Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jason Clark says those numbers don't exist.

"We don't break out the cost of general population as opposed to an inmate that's on death row. There's just a flat figure for offenders that spend time in a state-operated prison," Clark said.

TDCJ gets their figures from the Legislative Budget Board, who says the state spends about $57 per day housing inmates across Texas. However, that number is an average of the lowest to highest security inmates.

KCBD: "Bottom line, we don't know how much it costs to keep an inmate on death row?"


KCBD: "And do you think there is something wrong with that?"

CLARK: "Our cost analysis is done by the legislative budget board."

Life on death row is significantly different than it is in general population, which could mean a higher price tag.

"Offenders on death row are single-celled, so they spend about 22 to 23 hours a day in their cell. They eat there; they would come out for recreation and a shower," Clark said.

Kristin Houle is the executive director of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. She says the meter starts running the second a county pursues that sentence.

"In Texas, the average time when someone is sentenced and executed is about 10 to 12 years, so they are entitled to both state and federal appeals and those impact the taxpayers," Houle said.

Houle tells us the last comprehensive study on the cost of the Texas Death Penalty was done in 1992 by the Dallas Morning News. They nailed down a $2.3 million price tag for executions, versus $750,000 for a life sentence. That was 20 years ago.

"We have seen state after state who have managed to conduct cost studies on the death penalty. In fact, there are concerns that Texas has actually done it on the cheap," Houle said.

KCBD was able to find out how much the state is paying for execution drugs. According to receipts we've obtained, a compounding pharmacy in Houston was paid $2,800 for eight vials of Pentobarbital.

We reached out to the Legislative Budget Board to find out if any death penalty cost studies were planned for the future and they said there were not.

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